Just back at my desk after the last of this Fall’s (2013) three APHA workshops, this one held in Los Angeles – another great experience meeting so many passionate, inspirational advocates and soon-to-be advocates….
As those who took the marketing workshop learned – one of the most important things we should do is to measure the effectiveness and client satisfaction of our work once it’s completed. To accomplish that, after each of the workshops, I surveyed attendees to see what they found most useful and to understand what didn’t work so well, too.
The answers varied. Many cited as most useful the business workshop’s session on how to price your services using their value as the foundation. Others mentioned marketing by focusing on benefits instead of services. Some advocates appreciated the more in-depth information about maximizing their web presence. Still others finally understand how to get a client to say “yes” to a contract.
But there was one element that was mentioned most often among almost 150 surveys.
Sometimes a conversation gets started in our APHA Forum that brings me up short. (One reason I SO love the Forum!)
One of those conversations was kicked off this week by a member who posed a question: are other members asking potential new clients whether they have guns in their homes?
I’m not a gun person, and I live in an area where we just don’t think about guns much, so I really didn’t understand the question at first…. until others chimed in.
It’s about safety – which, of course, makes perfect sense. Many members followed up Marie’s question with comments that showed the comprehensive nature of those safety considerations: that it’s not just about a client’s safety (might she ever try to commit suicide?) but about the advocate’s safety, too. (Might the client get angry enough with his own perceptions or frustrations that he would take it out on his advocate?) Further, it’s not just about guns. It’s about violence wrought of frustration and fear. A number of scenarios and solutions have been shared in the Forum.
It got me thinking about the broader picture: How many of us think about the potential dangers we are exposed to in our profession? I think many of us ponder the threat of lawsuits….
But I’m not sure many of us think about real physical, safety-related threats – problems we can prevent up front if we are aware of them – which goes back to why I value the conversations we have in the Forum. It’s possible this particular conversation will save lives.
Other dangers I can think of:
OK – so I confess. I talk baby talk to my dog. He’s little, and snuggly, and adorable – and it’s just so easy to call him cutesy names and fall into that simplification of short sentences that we do with babies, too.
Just what is it about babies and puppy dogs that begs us to speak baby talk to them? I think that it’s that aura of vulnerability that surrounds them. Vulnerability that begs us to be reassuring or coddling or just drippy-sweet. They clearly need caretaking or caregiving, and we, as their protectors, want to make them feel secure and… well, loved.
Thus, babytalk. It makes us feel as if we are providing that security and happiness we know they crave. We think it makes us sound supportive and helpful. It just seems to come so naturally.
An email I received from an APHA member this week made me think about this topic. She shared her own elderly mother’s experience with a home health worker. Hazel, the elderly mother (not her real name) is sharp as a tack, but knew she could use some assistance. Our member helped her mom, Hazel, find a private advocate. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well. Turns out Hazel got frustrated because she felt pressure to do things, or sign things, or make choices she didn’t want to make. Specifically she felt as if her advocate wouldn’t listen to her or trust her ability to make decisions.
One aspect of healthcare that not enough people understand is about the role of technology for providing medical services: how it should be used, when it should be used, and why it should be used.
That disconnect in understanding creates a huge gap in the healthcare continuum that we patient advocates fill – immediately understood, instantly appreciated, and more than worth whatever a client will pay for it.
Put simply: tools can’t provide the hugs and reassurance that individuals crave, and need for survival.
There is a huge difference between directly providing care coordination, and using technology to do so.
- Directly providing care means face-to-face, sit across from, look into the eyes of, one-on-one handholding.
- Technology, in the form of telephones, the web, skype, IMs, online medical records, apps, the cloud, or any other digital or non-human format — is just a tool.
- Tools are not providers and…
- Providers are not tools.
Both are necessary, useful and appropriate when used correctly. For example:
- If I am simply looking up information about my symptoms online, then all I need is tools – a computer, and access to the internet. I’m not looking (at that point) for a human being to help me. In fact, I’d probably prefer to be left alone with my tools. My interest is in obtaining information, to fulfill an intellectual need.
- But if I’ve just been diagnosed with something difficult, or I’ve received an overwhelmingly huge hospital bill in which I see obvious errors, then a tool isn’t what I want – I want a human being to explain things and fix things for me. Even if my expectations are unrealistic – it’s a human being I must connect with to move forward. My interest is in obtaining reassurance, reducing my feelings of vulnerability, maybe curtailing my fear, fulfilling an emotional need.
This point came up recently in three separate conversations with people who really just do NOT get it. All three are in the process of building online tools for one audience or another, all relating in some way to advocacy, all talking about “scalability.”
Do you consider yourself a Certified Patient Advocate or Certified Health Advocate?
I hate to burst bubbles here, but no matter who you are, or what courses or programs you have taken, no matter who or what handed you a certificate at the end, you are not a certified advocate.
Why? Because there is no such thing as certification for patient advocates or health advocates. Period.
Those of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time have heard this tune – many times – before. Some of you, realizing that you may be doing yourselves and the profession harm by calling yourselves certified advocates, have deleted that designation from your business cards or your email signatures. I applaud you. Truthfully, you don’t have to read this post any further.
But others, whether they do so innocently not understanding the distinction, or willfully because no one is going to tell THEM what to do, are actually being deceptive to their clients, and laying the groundwork for problems for themselves. Potentially BIG problems.
I know how this whole “certification” thing gets started.
Several of the educational programs for private patient advocates issue a certificate when a student has completed their program. So some of their graduates think that makes them “certified.” To an extent they are – but only by that program. Graduates should be proud and pleased they have completed their coursework, and yes, they should share that information with their clients and potential clients (see below*.) But no – completion of any existing program does not make them certified patient or health advocates.