The 2014 Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award… and the winner is…

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logo: The Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass AwardAnd – we have a winner!

The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, on behalf of its selection committee (comprised of past winners plus Ken Schueler’s daughter, Alexandra), is pleased to announce the 2014 winner of the H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award:

Karen Zorrilla, MD of Houston, Texas.  Congratulations Karen!

The choice was both easy and difficult.  Karen’s qualifications are outstanding – an easy choice.  However, all our applicants are outstanding examples of excellence in their service to their clients and our profession. The competition was stiff. There were no wrong choices. In fact, this year’s applicants who did not receive the award have been encouraged to enter again next year.

Karen was nominated by a fellow advocate, Elisabeth Russell, who is also a past winner, and a business colleague. Karen does most of her private advocacy work as a result of contracting with Elisabeth’s company, Patient Navigator.  (Learn more about contracting with fellow advocates.)

How the winner is chosen or determined:

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Eight Hour Day? Get Paid for Sixteen

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Businesswoman juggling responsabilitiesPatient advocate Joan H. Elper has been an independent advocate for more than a year now. She has worked with seven clients during that time, and is growing her practice slowly but surely. Her focus is medical-navigational in nature, helping mostly elderly parents of the adult children who hire her understand what their doctors tell them. She also has two cancer patients who want to self-direct their care more than the doctors would like, so some of Joan’s reward comes from seeing those clients make informed decisions based on their own wants and needs, and finding that their doctors have actually respected them for it in the long run.

As she continues to build her practice, Joan sees three potential problems. First, that she has trouble scheduling her work. Some days she works 12 or 14 hours. Other days, she twiddles her thumbs. She’s afraid to grow her business because she doesn’t know what she’ll do if more clients require more than those particularly hours-heavy days. Yet – problem #2 – she’ll never make the kind of money she wants to make if she can’t take on more clients. Further – problem #3 – she really hates marketing. She’s been lucky so far because her church pastor has referred the clients she’s working with, but she knows she can’t build a business just on his referrals.

Joan has been mulling over one idea. Two of her clients have asked her to review their medical bills. Joan and those clients know there may be mistakes in those bills and they may need to be negotiated. But she turned them down because she doesn’t feel as if that’s a competency she has.

So – Joan’s great business building idea, the one that she believes will solve all three of her business problems? …

She has decided she’ll take some courses in medical billing and coding, and then she’ll have a new skill that can help her clients. Even though she has always hated math, bookkeeping and bill paying, if she knows how to do it, she’ll be able to replace those thumb-twiddling hours, she’ll be able to make more money because she won’t have to say “no” – and best yet – she won’t have to do any marketing! Bingo!  All problems solved in one swell foop.

Joan asked me – what do you think of my idea, Trisha?

Not much, I told her. (Although I let her down gently. Right direction…. unworkable solution.)

And since this is a common conversation, I thought I’d share the solution with you, too.

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Doing What You Love Right Into a Hole

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businessmodelEach week I’m contacted by a handful of people who have just begun thinking about becoming professional patient or health advocates. Often they share long stories – many paragraphs or several minutes long… describing years of advocacy for a loved one, or a resumé full of nursing experience, as if they need to convince me that they would make a good advocate or they run the risk of not hearing back from me.

These long, heartfelt messages are about the intersection of passion for advocacy – and the wish to use that passion to make a living. Advocacy fits them. They love it!  They’ve been doing it for a long time. They have enjoyed their journey as advocates so far, have usually been frustrated in some way by a system that wants to thwart good outcomes for patients, they see how it can improve, and now they want to be advocates in this very different, independent way – and be paid for doing it.

But I worry about most of them.

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Death, Dying, Unhappiness and Misery Have Been on My Mind

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deathandmiserySeveral weeks ago I was contacted by Ramona*, a woman in her 50s who is leading what she considers to be a horrible, no-quality life. She is tied to machines for all but about 2 hours a day, she needs regular surgeries to stay alive, she can’t eat food (liquids only), there is no prospect for improvement, and she has no family… She has no hope, and she wants to die.

She has tried discussing options with her doctors, but to no avail. She wants to stop her treatment, enter hospice care and receive palliative care instead. That should be her right!  But because they CAN keep her alive (and, of course, can keep taking her money and her insurance – for years) her doctors will not discuss hospice with her, nor have they provided any other options.

She has also tried contacting doctors in right-to-die states, but since she does not live in those states, they will not talk to her.

So she reached out to me, asking me if I could help her figure out what to do. After all, is determining our own death, perhaps, the ultimate in patient empowerment?  Whether it is or isn’t, there are so very many details and questions to be concerned with ranging from possible mental health issues, to the law, to one’s religious beliefs, to actually making it happen if that’s the ultimate choice.

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All Dressed Up With Big Places to Go

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highwatersWhen I was a first grade teacher (which, I dare say, might have been before some of you were born), I got a huge kick out of one observation I made in early January every year.

My observation was that my students returned after the holiday break – and once again – their pants were long enough to cover their ankles.

Now – OK – for those of you who are too tired to interpret that – it meant that before the holidays, they had grown so much since the beginning of the school year that their britches were too short. We called their before-the-holiday pants “high waters”! I’ve heard they are also called “flood pants” – you get the picture. The fact that they had been given new clothes as holiday gifts meant that, indeed, they had grown.

(And here’s a blast from the past…  they were wearing those high waters over their underoos. 🙂 )

So what does that have to do with patient advocacy?

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