Feb 16 2015

Head to Head, Toe to Toe – And Who Are the Big Winners?

Glückliche Seniorin boxt mit roten BoxhandschuhenLike Jeopardy, I’m going to start by giving you the answer:

  • Patients and Caregivers
  • Smart Health and Patient Advocates

So what’s the question?  That would be:  Who are the biggest beneficiaries when it comes to competition in the health and patient advocate space?

Just want to start with that perspective so we don’t lose sight of it as I begin describing recent events, as a prelude to some big excitement and perhaps, that moment we’ve all been waiting for….

In the eight years I’ve been working on promoting patient advocacy, there was more commotion, more positive movement, more negative noise, and perhaps the most excitement I have seen in the marketplace for patient advocates in just the past 10 days. Quite amazing, really.

That’s the good news.

The bad news?  Sadly, much of it was reported to me in anger and frustration, as if it was a problem – a negative – as in “how could they?”  It’s that C word – competition!  As if competition is a negative thing.

It is not a negative thing – or – at least – it shouldn’t be.  In fact, if anything, competition should be embraced for a number of reasons, with a few whys and hows below.

Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 09 2015

200 Patient Advocacy Ideas For You

ideasYes – this post is #201 on this blog since it was first launched on June 1, 2010. At around 800 to 1,000 words per post (average) – that’s a lot of idea sharing.

When the blog was first started, it was intended to speak to both advocates and the patients who needed good ideas and advice.  The AdvoConnection Directory was new. The membership organization, now called the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, was simply called the AdvoConnection Member Organization.  There was no cost to be a member (there is now!) – and yet we still had only about 120 interested parties who had opted in to a regular newsletter and some business advice and tips.

With this post, things have only grown – blossomed really.  Patient and health advocacy and navigation has grown into a bona fide profession, only months away from offering certification, with more than three dozen educational institutions and organizations offering coursework, and thousands of patients having been served by private advocates.

I thought I’d share some statistics with you, just because maybe you’ll be interested in knowing what others with your similar career ideas have been interested in:

  • 200 posts (today is #201)
  • 364 public comments (and hundreds more thru email to me, behind the scenes)
  • 102,177 visitors

The Top 6 Most Popular Posts:

Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 02 2015

Remembering the Mean Girls

girlsIn Fall 2010, about 150 health advocates, many of whom were just considering entering the profession, convened in Washington DC for the Second Annual NAHAC Conference. I was there at the invitation of NAHAC, to both be a vendor, and to give a presentation about marketing for advocates. The conference was a resounding success in my estimation, using my two conference-success measuring sticks: 1. I met so many smart, wonderful, passionate people and 2. I learned so much more than I imparted.

But there was one aspect to the conference that left a bad taste in my mouth, marring the experiences of too many, and lighting a fire under me.

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Jan 26 2015

The Two Pieces of Advice You Will Ignore – Until You Are Burned

charredConsider these scenarios:

  • Scenario #1. Jane calls you, in a panic. Her mother, age 88, who lives in your city, has fallen at her nursing home. Mother Frederick has been hospitalized, but Jane can’t get there until late tomorrow and wonders if you would be willing to help her mother until Jane can get there. Of course you can! This is the very reason you are an advocate.
    (Alternatively, Jane asks you to review her mother’s medical bills because she’s afraid her mother’s insurance isn’t covering everything it needs to cover. You, as a medical billing specialist, agree eagerly to help out.)
  • Scenario #2. You’re so excited!  You’ve just learned about patient advocacy as a profession and you know it’s a perfect way for you to make some extra money.  So you start asking your friends if they like the idea – they all do – they think it’s a great idea!  You sit down and do the math…  and decide that yup – let’s go – I’m going to be a patient advocate!  You find your first client, Mr. Howard, and you help him to the max! He is thrilled with the work you did for him.  You know you’ve made the right choice. Patient advocacy is for you.
  • Question #1:  Do you see yourself in either scenario?

So let’s continue….

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Jan 19 2015

Be Bold! Like Wearing Pants to School

OK – despite the fact that I know you can do the math, I will set the stage for this blog post with a true confession… I graduated from high school in 1969.

So you can imagine I was interested in this post on Mashable called October 1969 Hippie High School.

Now, granted, the photos were taken 4 months later in time (I graduated in June) But still – there is something about these photos that isn’t immediately identifiable today as a BIG DEAL.

But it was a big deal. At the time it was HUGE. That is, some of the girls were wearing PANTs to school.

For some of you who are younger (like, the vast majority of you, I expect) – you can’t imagine that wearing pants to school was a big deal, can you? So I’m going to tell you a story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 12 2015

Sorry. That’s Not Good Enough

scoldingwomanOne of the most visible changes in the new health insurance reality are the medical bill surprises people are receiving that they never received before, for services covered previously as a matter of course. You know – whereas their insurance automatically approved a CT scan for purpose X in the past, now patients need pre-approval. Without that pre-approval, payment for that CT scan comes out of their own pockets – totally unexpected and usually very expensive.

Most of us learn the hard way that we need to get permission for many of the services that used to be automatically approved. I know I did. About two years ago I received the full billing ($350) for my annual trip to the dermatologist. I had been referred by my primary, the check-up was a covered benefit, but because I hadn’t gotten it approved ahead of time, I received the bill, and was told I was responsible, for the full ride.

I was stunned! And angry, too…. When I called my insurer, the customer service rep told me that was their new policy, and I was out of luck; there was nothing she could do to help me. When I asked when the rule had changed, she told me she wasn’t really sure. When I asked why I had never been notified, she said she didn’t know… Bottom line, I got NO information from her. I finally asked to speak to a supervisor who was even less helpful – until I told her I would be in touch with the state insurance department. Only then did she say she might be able to help me sort out the billing. Eventually they did cover the cost of my appointment – because they couldn’t prove to me that I had ever been notified of the change in policy.

I’m not going to lament here the fact that it seems like nothing can be done by customer service these days without threatening them first. Instead let’s look at some lessons for advocates; that is, that when we know we need something, or when we are stonewalled, the only real answer is “that’s not good enough.”

I raise it today because it almost happened again last month, as follows:

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Jan 05 2015

A New Year, and the Responsibility of Potential

potential“Happy New Year to you and much happiness and success in 2015!”… You know that all business conducted by email or holiday card during the past few weeks has ended with just that greeting – or variations on that theme.

It can be the hollowest of greetings – not that you don’t really wish the person you’re writing to success and happiness – of course you do! But usually when we add it to a casual correspondence because it’s easy, it’s simply cordial – a good ending – without much thought to what’s behind it.

But this holiday season, I’ve actually put quite a bit of thought into that closing statement, for reasons I will share with you here, because I think they could have a positive effect on your work, and a ripple effect, then, on your own level of happiness and success – and your CLIENTS’ levels of happiness and success, not just in 2015, but for years to come.

Here’s why: In the span of three days, I learned of three friends – good friends, people I care about or work closely with – who suffered / are suffering major medical circumstances.  One died within two weeks of a totally unexpected, practically symptomless diagnosis. Two were given devastating diagnoses and are undergoing very difficult treatments. I also heard from a handful of friends, including APHA members, whose families suffered truly tragic circumstances or news… I began to feel like that proverbial camel, just waiting for more straws.

I reacted just as many of us do; it’s this kind of news that makes me sad, so sad, at first. Whereupon I quickly transition to where I realize how important it is to LIVE life, not just slog through it. Setting aside the somedays and grabbing the bull by the horns today – right now. Doing what we love, what makes our souls sing, the reason we jump out of bed in the morning in anticipation of another incredible day. Today.

Within my thought process is that fact that this is where YOU and I – uniquely – have the opportunity to respond to this kind of stimulus so much more vigorously than others…  Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 14 2014

Santa Can Teach Us Advocates Plenty About Good Branding

santaHere come the holidays!  And whether or not Santa plays a role in your own celebration, you have to give it to him – he may be THE most recognizable brand in the world.

It struck me this week that what Santa stands for, and what advocates stand for, are very similar: selflessness and improving others’ lives. So what can independent health advocates learn from Santa Claus about branding ourselves, our work and our practices?

Plenty.

Basic branding is about three things:

1.  Recognition

We all recognize Santa.  Even variations on Santa imposed by others – we still know they are Santa. Old Santas, young Santas, male Santas, female Santas, long-coated or short-coated Santas, even fat Santas and skinny Santas – we KNOW what Santa looks like.

Why?  Because the Santa look is consistent, whether it’s the red coat and pants with the white fur trim, or the wide black belt, or the hat, or the beard, or even the chimney or rooftop that accompanies Santa.

Santa has had hundreds of years to hone his brand, of course. But like the rest of us, he had to start somewhere, too.

You, too, can hone your brand by making sure you and your business are recognized whether it is in-person, in print or online.  Maybe you wear the same color blazer every time you are working (remember those Century 21 gold jackets?)  Or maybe you always wear a name tag that is large and easily readable. Stick a car magnet on your vehicle. Your marketing materials, like your logo, your colors, your type faces, your messages – they should always have the same look and feel.

vehicleConsistency in look is the key to recognition. Like Santa – pick a look to help grow your brand.

2.  Consistent behavior

We KNOW what Santa stands for.  And it’s not just about coming down the chimney and leaving gifts. Santa’s behavior is always positive, he always says and does the same thing (HO HO HO! and down the chimney he goes)  Even when he’s exhausted from an entire day of talking to “gimme” kids and crying children (and their parents, who may even be worse) – he still keeps a smile on his friendly face and yes, he still shows up on Christmas Eve.

Santa is happy, friendly, kind, generous, a hard worker, has a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly when he laughs, lays his finger to the side of his nose before he retreats up the chimney, and has a reputation for always showing up, consistently, year after year after year.

As independent private advocates, we, too, need to develop that consistent behavior as probably the most important part of our brand. Our clients need to know that they can trust us, that we are readily available, that we will always come through for them, that we can handle any hurdle on their behalf, that we will bring them peace of mind…. (that belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly is optional.)

As you strive for consistency in your practice, keep Santa’s consistent behavior in the back of your mind.

3.  Being memorable (and findable)

From the time you were a very young child, the moment you saw Santa, no matter what time of the year, even if you aren’t Christian, as soon as you saw Santa, you knew exactly who he was and what he represented. Santa is most certainly memorable.

And so it should be for you as a private advocate.  Be sure that every one of your clients remembers you – your name, your behavior, the value you bring, and your readiness and willingness to answer questions or tackle problems. As long as you have managed their expectations accurately and your results have been as billed, you will very likely be remembered with appreciation and respect.

Make sure they also remember how to get in touch with you at a moment’s notice (the nature of health problems is that they rear their ugly heads quickly.)  Provide them with plenty of ways to connect with you – your email address and phone number should be at their finger tips – online, on a business card or brochure on a table at their home or office, or even a pen, tablet or refrigerator magnet.

Further – be easy to find at those “moment’s notice” times. We always know where Santa is – either at the North Pole, or at the mall (!), at Christmas parties or making deliveries in his sleigh.  You should be easy to track down quickly – by phone or email.

Even when you aren’t currently working with a client, stay in touch over time.  Phone on occasion; “Hi Mrs. Clark. Just thought I’d call to see how you’re feeling….”)  Drop a note in the postal mail or send an email. Stay at the top of even past clients’ minds.

Be as memorable – and findable – as Santa.

 

Yes – it seems that Santa has this branding thing down pat. I challenge you to give thought to your own brand this season each time you see Santa, no matter what interpretation of Santa you may see. Then mimic Santa’s great branding to be sure you and your practice are recognizable, consistent and memorable, too.

I wish you and yours the very Happiest and Safest of Holiday Seasons

…whether Santa plays a direct role or not. :-)

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