Let’s Talk About Excellence in Patient and Health Advocacy

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In less than one week, we will be announcing the winner of this year’s Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award.   This is a big deal – and not just for the winner, who will find some perks that go along with the award.

It’s a big deal to you, too, because in many ways, the stories our applicants told, and the questions they were asked to address, are what defines excellence in patient and health advocacy.  In other words – these attributes, based on Ken Schueler’s work, goals and ideals define what we consider to be a top-notch, client-life-enhancing advocate. The candidates’ demonstrations of four of the six goals is what determines the winner.

Let me explain.  The six attributes are:

  • Empowerment ( Helping patient-clients make their best choices by empowering them with the information they need to make fully-informed decisions for themselves)
  • Inclusion ( Recognition that patient-clients of all ages, races, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socio-economic status have a right to engage with a health or patient advocate or navigator.)
  • Integrative, Evidence-Based Approach ( Providing materials and research to the Nominee’s patient-clients that are part of the published literature, and, where appropriate, integrative in nature (combination of traditional, complementary and/or alternative).
  • Continuous Learning (Improvement of Nominee’s own skills, continuing education, taking courses, volunteerism—activities undertaken to expand capabilities and knowledge in a new direction.)
  • Sharing and Mentoring (Helping other advocates and navigators improve their knowledge of the field and/or expand their capabilities.)
  • Community Visibility (Creating awareness of health and patient advocacy by speaking to groups, appearing in the press, participating in social media—activities focused on being an ambassador for the profession.)

In the reviews of the applications for this year’s award, each of the committee members (including me) made phone calls to the references provided by the applicant-candidates.  Those calls left such an impression on me!  The superlatives used by the clients I called – the true appreciation and the strong bonds built by some of our candidates and their clients were heart-warming and awe-inspiring.

A few points to share that repeated themselves – aspects of the work that the best candidates demonstrated:

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Patient Advocates, Income Tax Deductions and Guide Dogs

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Yes – it’s early in the tax season in the United States.  Some of us have probably already filed our income taxes. Some have piled up those 1099s and W-2s and are mustering up the courage to make an appointment with our tax preparers.  And others are saying, “Please don’t remind me!”

But let’s not forget – it’s tax season for our clients, too, many of whom have accumulated enough medical expenses that they may be asking whether or not they can deduct your health or patient advocacy, navigation or medical billing review services from their taxes.

Good question, right?  Have you ever thought of yourself as someone else’s tax deduction?  (Well – OK – your parents took deductions for you, but….)  That’s what we need to know….  are patient or health advocates’ or navigators’ services deductible from income taxes?

The answer is – maybe, and maybe not.  For 2011 taxes (filed in 2012) there is no real answer, but there are definite possibilities.

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When Is Potential Competition the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Your Business?

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(Posted February 2, 2012)

One of my favorite restaurants is an Italian place called Dominick’s. The food is always delicious, the pasta, sauces and dishes are homemade (you cannot beat their meatballs!), the wait staff is always friendly and the prices are fair, too.  It’s a family place, with a busy bar and a glass-fronted bakery case with the most sinful-looking desserts. There’s only one Dominick’s, and sometimes it’s so busy that the wait can be well more than an hour. (I’ll bet you have a Dominick’s in your town, too, even if it’s called Antonio’s, Nick’s or Enzo’s – great places to eat!)

Just up the same boulevard as Dominick’s is the Olive Garden.  Of course, the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant, too.  Even though the food is quite different, it’s also excellent. There are many similarities to Dominick’s; the Olive Garden is a family place, may require a long wait and often sports a busy bar.

But as we all know, the big difference between Dominick’s and the Olive Garden is the difference between the personal and the corporate. There is one and only one Dominick’s.  There are hundreds of Olive Gardens. While you might find very personalized service and delicious food in both restaurants, their approach to their businesses and how they grow their success is very different.  Yet, they co-exist up the street from each very nicely, both serve their customers very well, and both are very successful.

So now you’re wondering what Dominick’s and the Olive Garden have to do with health and patient advocacy, right?
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10 Lessons Patient Advocates and Navigators Can Learn from the Superbowl

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I’ll confess that I’m not a big football fan.  And I’m certainly not a big fan of sports metaphors (which actually drive me crazy in business because I think they are exclusionary – not everyone understands them.)

But I am a fan of learning good business lessons from the experiences we have and the activities that are going on around us.  And the lessons we can pull from the Superbowl are, well… super.  So please forgive the sports metaphors for the moment, and see what you can learn:

1.  The Superbowl is about excellence.
Only the top two teams in any given year are invited to play in the Superbowl.  Beyond the fact that they have won so many games, they are also talked about in the most glowing terms.    As advocates and navigators, we can strive for that same high regard by performing our services with excellence so that those we work about talk about us in those kinds of glowing terms, too.

2.  The Superbowl is about outreach and promotion.
Even if you aren’t a fan of one of the Superbowl teams, you know who they are,  what cities they are from, and other assorted details, simply because you can’t miss them. No matter what time of the year it is, if someone talks about pro football, they mention the Superbowl, too.  The lesson from this is very clear.  Let your potential clients think of you anytime someone mentions medical challenges or illness.

3.  The Superbowl is about outcomes and bragging rights.
Every pro football team aspires to not only make it to the Superbowl, but to win it, too.  There are a number of ways we strive to “win” as advocates and navigators.  One is that we can “win” a client when they decide to work with us.  But of even more value is the “win” of helping that client find improved medical outcomes (or money outcomes) because we did our work well. Wins mean bragging rights – and that tells us to remember to ask for testimonials and endorsements, too.

4. The Superbowl is about teamwork.
Individuals don’t play in the Superbowl – teams do.  Those teams are comprised of individuals who work well together, but none could ever be there if “together” wasn’t a part of the mix.  As advocates and navigators, even if we are sole practitioners, there are still many reasons to view our work in teams:  with our clients, their providers, employees, contractors, advisors/resources, and others. There is strength in that team approach.

5. The Superbowl is about inclusion.
While the game itself is comprised of just those two teams, the event tries to include everyone.  Rare is the Superbowl conversation that doesn’t also mention the commercials.  Those entertaining commercials bring in a whole new set of viewers and fans – people who otherwise would never consider tuning in. As advocates, we strive to get our messages in front of other audiences, too.  How can we do that?  By providing something they are interested in – even if it’s not our core business.  A hospital-bedside advocate could give a talk about staying safe in the hospital. A medical billing advocate might blog about the effects of healthcare reform….  The Lesson:  Be inclusive of new audiences.

6. The Superbowl is about coaching.
None of us will succeed without listening, learning from and engaging with those who can help us.  Anyone who tries to do this work without staying up on the practice will not succeed in the long run. This new career of patient advocacy and navigation changes dramatically, sometimes week-to-week, at a minimum month-to-month…. always. Unless you subscribe to an organization that will keep track of changes, or take courses or classes to grow your capabilities, you’ll find yourself left behind from this fast-moving service career.

7. The Superbowl is about coopetition.
Most of us think that the Superbowl is a competitive game that will have a clear winner.  And it is.  But the reason it is so popular, so infused in the American psyche, is because it is coopetive.  Coordinating this event year after year is THE fulltime job of perhaps thousands of people, ranging from those who are involved in the game itself, to those who sell or produce the commercials, to those who must prepare and protect the venue, to those who write about it, or keep the history of it.  Those folks compete with others, of course.  But it’s the fact that they all cooperate that makes it all work.

8. The Superbowl drives us to alternatives.
Honestly, I get sick of the hype.  And while I usually like to watch NBC, this year, I have changed the channel because, frankly, I get sick of so much of life being about the Superbowl.  The lesson in there for us advocates is:  don’t be overbearing.  When it comes to your own promotion or interest, learn where the boundaries are so your message will get across, but you won’t be dismissed by those who are tired of hearing about your work.

9. The Superbowl is about analysis.
In any business – whether it’s the Superbowl or patient advocacy – assessing what worked, what didn’t, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, is what shepherds us into the future.  Strengths and successes give us the opportunity to showcase and promote our work, plus the sense of satisfaction.  We can assess weaknesses and failures to determine which parts of our work need to be changed or at least adjusted, perhaps dropped, or even reinforced.  Every client interface, every marketing outreach, and other aspects of our business, too, provides an opportunity for analysis.

Bottom line – whether or not you care one wit about watching the Superbowl – or sports metaphors – there are lessons we can take away and apply to our work as health and patient advocates and navigators.

I came up with 9 lessons – can you suggest #10?  Please add your lesson in the comments section.  (Giants? or Patriots?)

——————- LEARN MORE ——————-
FOR PATIENTS | FOR ADVOCATES |
FOR POTENTIAL ADVOCATES

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Some High Profile Marketing and a Review Opportunity, Too

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Deviating from my usual advice or issues-type post, I have a couple of invitations for you today.  In both cases you’ll be helping yourself and helping future health or patient advocates, too.

Invitation #1:

Tell a success story.  Many of you know that (in my “other life”) I write about patient empowerment – issues, concerns, advice and tips.  One thing I am reminded of every day is that many people have no idea that such a service as private patient advocacy exists. They may even see references to patient or health advocates or navigators who can help them weather their medical care challenge storms.  But because we don’t have a lot of public examples, they don’t understand when such a service might be useful to them.

I want everyone to have an advocate – just like everyone knows a real estate agent to call, or knows when it’s time to call their lawyer or someone to help with their taxes.  Especially with the confusion of the upcoming implementation of healthcare reform, having a private advocate to call will become a necessity.

So how do we accomplish that more widespread realization on the part of patients and caregivers that the help they need is out there and ready to help them?

This time we’re going to leverage the power of storytelling combined with the several hundred pageviews a month that come to my patient empowerment articles.  And when I say “we” – I hope you are going to pitch in!

If you are a professional advocate – please tell a story of a patient whose outcomes improved because you were there to help out You don’t need to tell a long or complicated story. You can tell about one successful aspect of your work even for a client who required extensive services.  Just provide a good example of something you were able to accomplish that improved that client’s experience with the healthcare system.  And – you can sign your name and designate your location, if you would like to (not required – but that’s the marketing part!)

Invitation #2:

Provide a review.  You may know about the website AdvoConnection sponsors that lists and provides information about all the advocacy education programs, events and organizations available to help promote our chosen career field.  Called Health Advocate Programs (original, right?) – it lists every known opportunity for furthering the skills and knowledge of advocates of all flavors.

If you have been a student of any patient or health advocacy program, or if you have ever attended one of the listed events, or if you have been a member of any of the organizations – we would like your opinion about them!  By providing a brief review, you’ll be helping others decide what is worth their time, energy and money – AND – for those programs that have not met or exceeded your expectations, you’ll be helping them improve their offerings.

There are a few rules and parameters (like – you can choose whether or not to identify yourself publicly) – so take a look at the review information.  You can either link directly to the review form, or, you can find your way to the listing of the program, event or organization you’ve participated in, and find a link to make your review from there.

So that’s it!  Two invitations – to help yourself and to help others.

——————- LEARN MORE ——————-
FOR PATIENTS | FOR ADVOCATES |
FOR POTENTIAL ADVOCATES

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