Patient Advocacy on the Cusp of the Tipping Point

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A tipping point:  a dictionary definition will tell you that it means “the crisis stage in a process, when significant change takes place.”

And for patient and health advocacy – we are almost there.  Almost at the tipping point.

I first learned the term when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book by that title, The Tipping Point.  I learned that the term is borrowed from epidemiology.  That is, when a contagious organism infects enough people to go from just a few sick people, to hundreds, or thousands or millions – the tipping point occurs in that modicum of space or time, when all of a sudden it switches from almost epidemic to being an epidemic.  It’s when that threshold is crossed.

Another way of looking at it comes from Hollywood – when an “overnight success” is recognized, even though he or she has been acting, singing or performing for many years prior to that point. But that point between when few know who s/he is and millions recognize his/her name – that’s the tipping point.

Tipping points don’t happen by themselves.  They require a set of circumstances that make the tip happen.  Gladwell describes types of people who make them happen:  connectors, mavens and salesmen, all of whom have a role in helping a concept cross that threshold to become mainstream.

In the past week, two people have shared links that indicate to me that we are almost there.  Both are quotations from well-known or well-regarded people who have identified or described what patient advocates are doing, thereby moving us closer to the mainstream.  These aren’t people who are involved in patient advocacy, meaning these quotations are in no way self-serving.  They are observational – and powerful.

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Announcement: The Ken Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award

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As announced this morning at the AdvoConnection Business Institute, and in honor of the spirit, legacy and memory of Ken Schueler, our friend and colleague who passed away last spring, we’d like to invite you to apply for the Ken Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award.

The H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award recognizes Ken’s role in defining and growing patient advocacy as a valuable service that improves the lives of its client-patients. In his name and honor, it supports the growth of this career, and the work of individuals who wish to succeed by following in his footsteps. Ken’s work, like a compass, guides them, giving them direction.

The name is derived from the quote of one of Ken’s patients, Louis Chiricella, who, during a Fox News TV special in Fall 2010 called Winning the War on Cancer, said, “When I contacted Ken Schueler, it was like finding my compass.”

Two awards will be provided each year to patient advocates who best illustrate those professional attributes Ken felt were important. They form the criteria for the award:

  • Empowerment
  • Inclusion
  • Integrative, Evidence-Based Approach
  • Continuous Learning
  • Sharing and Mentoring
  • Community Visibility

The selection committee is comprised of several members of AdvoConnection, plus Ken’s daughter, Alexandra, who participated in the creation of the award.

One award will be made to a patient advocate who, in the past, enjoyed a clinical career.  The other will be awarded to an advocate who did not have a clinical background before becoming an advocate.

Learn more about the H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award.  Then, begin preparing your application.  The application deadline is December 1, 2011.  The winners will be announced to the public March 1, 2012.

(Update:  Meet the first winners of the Schueler Compass Award!)

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FOR PATIENTSFOR ADVOCATES |
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And Above All – Establish Trust

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For many years I’ve heard from patients across the country with questions about their healthcare. Not medical questions; rather questions about something in the healthcare system that isn’t working the way they want, or expect it, to work.  They can’t get their doctors to answer their questions, or the insurance company has turned them down for a test or treatment, or they got a bill they didn’t expect – or – ______ (fill in the blank with hundreds more questions!)

There is one theme that runs through every question;  that is – a lack of trust. In every case, the reason they are turning to me is because they don’t trust either an answer they’ve been given, or they don’t trust the person or entity who gave them that answer, or both.

A trust gap has developed, a chasm really, that’s growing wider, between patients and the traditional system of obtaining healthcare. The more they need, whether it’s more medical care or more answers about that care, the less they are getting. That widening chasm represents rationing – of care and communication.  The more care and communication are rationed, the more frustrated patients become and their trust erodes even further.

When vulnerable people can’t trust, then they become desperate. That’s often the point when they go in search of someone to help, and more and more frequently, that person they are hoping will help them is one of us – a patient advocate. Continue Reading →

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What’s Next?

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Two weeks ago, I worked with the staff at a large, local primary care practice teaching them some basic customer service-type skills to help them better manage their patients and, truthfully, improve their own job satisfaction, too.  Nurses, receptionists, the referral group, billing and cashiers – clinical and non-clinical staff attended. From making lists of the things their patients complain about most (you guessed it – prolonged time in the waiting room), to determining what the benefits to managing things differently might be (fewer headaches for everyone), we arrived at some simple and no-cost approaches they could use.

Their assignment, then, was to begin implementing some of those ideas, to assess what did, or did not work, and to begin thinking themselves of ways they could improve that constant patient interface that can become so problematic for everyone.

Then, after ten days of practice, we came back together to debrief.

Now, I’ll admit… I was a little nervous.  I had no idea what to expect. Had it worked?  Did they actually implement some of our ideas?  And if they did, what was their assessment of success?

Turns out….

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Tooting Your Own Horn, and Playing a Tune People Want (and Need) to Hear

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My last two posts have focused on why it’s important for those who want to succeed as private patient advocates realize that their success won’t rely on just their advocacy skills.  The bottom line is that success is NOT about an advocate’s skills.  Success is dependent on the balance of perception, needs and knowledge on the part of potential clients and the capabilities of advocates to fulfill them.  And that means that success is dependent on the advocate’s understanding of how to run and promote a business.

In other words:  Succeeding in the business of private patient advocacy requires two things:  good advocacy and good business.  Neither can stand by itself.  Good advocacy without business won’t succeed.  Good business without good advocacy won’t succeed.

Last week, we took a look at two representative advocates to illustrate the concept;  Dorothy Anderson is a former NICU nurse who hopes to help families with at-risk newborns make their transition home as safe and healthy as possible.  Kurt Schaefer is a former hospital billing specialist who hopes to help people reduce their hospital and other medical bills.  Both have impeccable skill sets and capabilities.  But neither is succeeding – because they are not business-minded.

For balance sake, let’s try a third example.  Katherine Lee is an entrepreneur who has decided patient advocacy is an up-and-coming field. Her business sense tells her that she can hire people with minimal skill sets, teach them how to be advocates, begin working on insurance plans to try to corral reimbursements, and pretty soon she’ll be chunking off her own pieces of the health insurance money pie.

It will probably upset you to learn that Katherine has a much better chance of initial success than either Dorothy or Kurt does.

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