Why Being Too Helpful Will Destroy Your Advocacy Practice

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cowAs the director of an organization for private, independent patient advocates, this time of year is full of big excitement – and big disappointments, too.

Today is January 12, and I’m excited to tell you that 32 new private advocate wannabes have joined Alliance of Professional Health Advocates just since the first of the year. For each one who eventually goes into business as an advocate, we can anticipate that they will help perhaps 100 client-patients in the next 5 years – potentially 3200 people (plus their families) who will enjoy better medical outcomes, or save plenty of money because they were helped. Remarkable! Especially exciting when you realize that so many people now have the opportunity to succeed at a new career, and so many MORE people will see better outcomes.

( I should mention, however, that the number of advocates needed is ten thousand times that – at least!)

But on the flip side, there’s disappointment, too. The new year always brings some soul searching, and soul searching often produces a handful of folks who decide that they just can’t cut it as private, independent advocates. Their hearts and advocacy abilities are willing and capable, but they just can’t get enough business to keep them in practice. So, sadly, they decide to throw in the towel. They take a job somewhere else or some just retire. Some decide to start a different kind of business for which (I predict) they are also doomed to fail. You’ll understand why in a moment.

Let me emphasize – for these folks, leaving private advocacy is not about being an advocate or love-lost for the profession. They may be no more or less capable of being outstanding advocates than when they got started early in their career exploration.

What they haven’t learned, though, or at least they haven’t embraced, is the fact that being a successful, independent, private patient or health advocate or navigator is less about being a good advocate, and more about being a successful business owner and marketer. No matter what type of business they decide to start, they won’t be successful if they don’t become smart business owners.

In many cases, advocates fail as business owners because they are just too helpful. TOO helpful!  It’s our nature, and it’s often what gets us in trouble. In particular for those new advocates who come from nursing backgrounds or anything bureaucratic in nature, learning that time = money is a tough lesson. It can stand in the way of our abilities to succeed.

Are you too helpful?  Here are three ways that being too helpful will put you out of business:

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Let’s Do a Refresh for 2014 – A Tipping Point for Private Advocacy!

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AHAPC-coversmThe holidays are behind us.  The fre-e-e-zing cold has arrived in most of North America. We’re feeling a little sluggish perhaps…. and maybe need a kick in the behind to get ourselves going in 2014.

2014. That means we’re in our fifth year of building this new profession…. Let’s make this the Year of the Independent Patient Advocate’s Tipping Point!  (can I hear an A-MEN?)

Are you ready for it?

If not, and if you’re in practice working with clients, helping them with the dozens of services they need, then you can probably use a reminder and refresher for those aspects of your business that could use some love and attention.

Enter:  Your Annual Health Advocacy Practice Checklist of 2014 

This is actually the second year for this checklist… although last year it had the words “kick start” in the title and was comprised of only 10 ideas.

This year’s new, revised and updated version is much meatier. There are 12 tasks for your consideration, and 6 of them are entirely new.  The resources are far more extensive.  And the price tag is a little higher, too. ($4.99)  It will be available for a limited time – through March 31, 2014 only.

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Of Honor and Yardsticks

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yardstickIf anyone decides one day to research and write the history of private, independent patient advocacy, they will likely put the genesis of the profession as 2009, when the first two advocacy organizations, NAHAC and APHA / AdvoConnection were launched.

Of course, there can’t be such a thing as an organization unless there are people who are looking to be… well… organized.  I don’t know how many members NAHAC had when it opened its doors, but APHA / AdvoConnection launched with about 30 interested parties, of whom perhaps a dozen were already working successfully as privately paid advocates.

We’re still in the early years. We still consider ourselves pioneers.  But it is on the shoulders of those who were already helping patients that we continue building and expanding our profession.  Importantly, we look to those early advocates to define and measure excellence in our profession; they are our YARDSTICKs.

Among the pioneers was Ken Schueler who was not only a giant among advocates; he was a giant among human beings. After his own – successful – battle with Stage 4 lymphoma in the early 1990s, Ken left his high-profile job with UNICEF to start his own advocacy practice, focusing on helping people diagnosed with difficult and rare cancers. Within a few years, he had established a global reputation for his work which put patients at the center of their own decision-making based on clinically researched, evidence based treatments – not just mainstream, traditional treatments, but when available, alternative and complementary approaches, too.

Importantly, Ken didn’t limit his work to the individuals who hired him. His contributions to the profession are seen every day through the Health Advocate’s Code of Conduct and Professional Standards.

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Learn Something Every Day

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© 2013 Barbara Friedman

Today I’m going to brag about my sister – to make a point.  I expect it will embarrass her a little (no intention to do that) but she illustrates something very important – a good lesson for us all.

Barbara (Torrey) Friedman, decided a few years ago (2010) that she’d like to learn a little something about photography.  “A little something” has now become a skill that is, simply put, awe-inspiring.

And yes, that’s a photo she took two days ago of a real snowflake, one of bazillions that fell in Ithaca, NY where she lives. Think about it. She captured ONE. And of course – it’s unique!  Beyond the fact that no two snowflakes are exactly alike, the photo is – too – uniquely Barb’s.


Yes Barb’s photography is superb. You can enjoy more of it here. And even more of it here – all 1,022 images she has put online so far.

So what does this have to do with patient advocacy?

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Insurance Reimbursements for Patient Advocates?

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paperworkThis is one of those questions I’m asked frequently which recently popped up again: When will private patient advocates be reimbursed by insurance?

In fairness, the question is usually asked by either those who either aren’t advocates, or are in the very early stages of thinking about patient advocacy as a living. They haven’t been exposed to the issues involved on a regular basis, so the obvious answers aren’t so readily apparent.

But whether you’re a total newbie, or you’ve been dancing in advocacy circles for awhile, there are two answers, at least for now:

•  probably never

•  hopefully never

If those answers surprise you, then you don’t know enough about health insurance and/or you don’t understand one of the most important attributes of private, independent advocacy.

Health insurer reimbursement for private, independent advocates would not only create a conflict of interest, but would drive most advocates out of business. In any case, reimbursed advocates would no longer be private NOR independent.

Let’s break it down. Continue Reading →

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