Broken Hearts Remind Us to Show Sympathy and Empathy

Posted by:


Joey Eisch, the 12-year-old son of friends of ours, was a major goofball with an enormous smile, a contagious laugh, and a sheer love of life.The photo above gives you a sense of him. It was taken at his parents’ wedding just two months ago – a wedding my husband and I attended, where we had a few minutes to spend with Joey. Just such a happy dynamo of a boy.

Then, on Friday, July 24, Joey was killed while riding his bicycle.  It was purely an accident. He was riding on the grassy shoulder of the road when he heard a car coming up behind him. As he turned his head to look around to see it, he turned the handlebars on his bike too, steering him directly in front of the oncoming truck. Several hours later he was pronounced brain dead at the hospital and his parents had to decide to take him off life-support. He died shortly afterward.

Devastating. I’m sure the only way one can understand the pain of losing a child is to have done so oneself. Whether the child is your own, or is close to your family, if you have ever had to suffer this kind of pain, please know you have my sympathy.

I won’t even attempt to describe the highly emotional memorial service except to say that it was packed with friends of the family, Joey’s schoolmates and more. At the end, through tears, we released perhaps a thousand purple balloons in his memory. (Purple was his favorite color.)


So what does this have to do with patient advocacy?

Some of us are in a position to witness family tragedies every day. I don’t mean that we are working with clients who have suffered horrifying accidents (although some of us may). But I do mean that new and devastating diagnoses, test results and prognoses are delivered every day to people who don’t expect them. Some of those people become our clients. Taking the time to acknowledge their emotional devastation, leading with empathy or sympathy*, can improve our service to them.

So much of what potential clients complain about is that doctors and other providers no longer seem to care what happens to them. We advocates have a chance to add caring back to the mix. Expressing empathy or sympathy appropriately is one way to do so.

At Joey’s memorial service, his father Brian urged us all to “Just cherish your kids. Give them a hug and tell them you love them every time you can.” Great advice.

Start at home. Even though you didn’t know Joey, please hear his father’s words. Cherish your children (and grandchildren) in obvious ways – hug them, kiss them, tell them you love them. Be sure that if they were gone tomorrow, they would know just how you feel.

Then let the ripple effect influence your work with clients and potential clients. Be very obvious with them about how you care. They’ll appreciate that you acknowledge their emotional pain, and that you are there to support them beyond just the nuts and bolts of navigation and medical bill solutions.

It’s impossible to find meaning in the death of one young boy unless we can use his life, and his smile, to improve the way we treat and support others.

Please do.


Photo of Joey: courtesy of the Eisch family.

*The difference between sympathy and empathy: Empathetic feelings mean you feel them as if they are your own, perhaps based on your own experience – very personal. Sympathetic feelings indicate compassion and caring, but they are not feelings you feel as your own.


A Second Opinion Isn’t Good Enough

Posted by:

I’ve stewed over this for years, since 2013 when he was first arrested. But ever since Farid Fata was sentenced to 45 years in prison (ONLY 45!) for fraud, I’m like a dog with a bone. I just can’t let go.


Last week I took at look at the Farid Fata case. He is the (former) oncologist who sentenced 553 people to their death or a lifetime of illness or financial bust by lying to them – telling them they had cancer they did not have, then treating them with chemo they didn’t need and ruining their lives. The 45 years he’ll spend in prison were not for the heinous crimes of destroying their health, instilling fear, breaking their hearts and stealing their hard-earned money. Rather he was penalized for defrauding Medicare and insurance.

Beyond the obvious disturbing and distressful aspects of this case, beyond my personal bias about misdiagnosis, and certainly beyond my real sympathy for the victims, is a big concern I have for advocates. Misdiagnosis, whether intentional or not, is happening with more frequency as doctors are spending less time with their patients. It is no stretch to see the responsibility for determination of a correct diagnosis as falling more squarely on the shoulders of advocates.

Despite the fact that we are not doctors or diagnosticians, our role in making sure clients get the right answers will become even more prominent as time goes on. For many reasons we can NOT afford to get it wrong!

Last week’s post was about the steps private advocates would have taken that would have prevented their clients from falling for these intentionally imposed misdiagnoses. Four steps. Four services advocates know to perform. Each by itself could have stopped a client-patient from being misdiagnosed.

But the bone I can’t let go of actually stems from a comment made by one of the post’s readers, Cindi, in reaction to one step – seeking a second opinion.

“Fata was many patients’ second opinion. He offered a better solution…. To assume none of his patients sought a second opinion is insulting…”

For one thing, it never occurred to me that Fata would have been the second opinion oncologist, and would have ended up treating people who had already received an opinion. It should have, but it had not.

But secondly, the more I think about it, that very fact proves that 

…a second opinion is no longer good enough.

Continue Reading →


How Professional Patient Advocates Would Have Stopped Farid Fata

Posted by:

On Friday, Dr. Farid Fata was sentenced to 45 years in prison in the state of Michigan.

If you read or watch the news reports you would think the reason behind his long sentence had something to do with the fact that he had diagnosed 500+ people with cancer they didn’t really have, told them they needed chemo, then treated them for those cancers they didn’t have. As a result many died, some will deal with the aftermaths of unneeded chemo for the rest of their lives, some are ruined financially in medical debt, and worse.

The headlines read things like,

Michigan doctor gets 45 years in prison for hurting patients

Farid Fata, Doctor Who Gave Chemo to Healthy Patients, Sentenced to 45 Years in Prison

Doc Told Hundreds of Healthy People They Had Cancer

He did do those things. Horrible, cruel, heinous crimes against those victims and society that hit way too close to home for me.  He is a despicable human being and deserves many more than 45 years in prison, in my not-so-humble opinion.

But here’s what most of us are missing:

Fata wasn’t found guilty, nor will be be imprisoned, because any of those people suffered. He isn’t paying the price for anything related to the heartbreak, fear, mental or emotional anguish he put those patients and their families through. His legal-guilt has nothing – NOTHING – to do with the physical, mental or emotional horrors of his crime.

No. Instead he is going to prison because he defrauded the government and Blue Cross-Blue Shield out of money. His crimes were money crimes. According to CNN, “He pleaded guilty to 13 counts of Medicare fraud, one count of conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks and two counts of money laundering.” According to the Detroit News, the amounts total $34 million.

Could Fata have been stopped?  Yes, he most certainly could have.

In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that all 553 patients could have avoided what happened to them. Every one of them could have gotten the care they needed, and avoided the care they did not need … Continue Reading →


Just Where Is that Privacy Line?

Posted by:

This week we were contacted by two major TV news outlets requesting interviews with advocates – one a national broadcast outlet, the other in Chicago. As we do when we receive these requests, we immediately alerted those Premium members who are on our Opportunities & Alerts notification lists so they could respond if they fit the profiles. In both cases, the media were looking to talk to APHA members – and even more so, client-patients of our members.

These requests came on the heels of a post in the APHA Discussion Forum expressing concern over problems that could be caused by having a Facebook page. The poster was worried that if a patient asked a personal health question on the advocate’s Facebook page, it would cause a HIPAA privacy violation, and she didn’t want to run that risk.

Then came an email question from a member: how can we, as advocates, claim we value client privacy, then turn around and expose them to the media? Of course, the underlying point to the question is about exposure for our own advantage, to promote our advocacy work.

Two great questions! And inspiration for today’s blog post.

The answers aren’t difficult to understand, but there are a few moving parts, as follows:

Continue Reading →


Leading By Example

Posted by:

Long time readers of this blog know that when it comes to private advocacy, I preach the gospel of learning to run a business.  I know – it seems counter-intuitive sometimes. But it’s true; that being a successful business owner is often less about being good at the core business, products and services one offers, and more about practicing good business tenets.

So, I have spent the last week leading by example. And today, I am so very ready to get back to working with advocates instead! 


APHA Members may remember the announcement a few months ago:

Continue Reading →


Why It Takes So Long to Acquire a New Client

Posted by:

We live in an instant gratification world, don’t we?  I suppose we could harken back to BF Skinner’s hungry rats, then combine that with the expectation of instant answers we get from the Internet to understand why we, as human beings, want and expect everything to happen the MOMENT we want it to happen!

Think it… will it… snap your fingers – there it is.

This concept came to mind after a conversation with my husband. He recently retired from his field engineering career. He loves to golf and fish and this time of the year, doesn’t lack for anything to do or play. But we also knew that if he didn’t have something to keep him busy the rest of the year he would drive me nuts with his nothing-to-do. (I know some of you can relate!) So together we have launched a new business for him, all internet based, advertising funded, and great fun.*

This week we were discussing the progress (or lack thereof) of acquiring advertisers for the site. I am thrilled at our progress. After all, we have been online for only a few months, we average about 50 visitors a day which, for a new site, is actually quite good. But we need lots more content and lots more visitors before we hit our stride with advertising.

But he is frustrated because he doesn’t think enough paid advertising is coming our way. Why is it taking so long? Why don’t all these potential advertisers think we are the best thing internet advertising since sliced bread? Why aren’t they sending us all their advertising money yet?

At that point I realized – that’s exactly what I hear from new advocates.  Not enough clients, not fast enough – resulting in frustration, and then, too many that just give up their practices because they didn’t anticipate they would have to wait so long.

Patience!  Please!  Patience!

For budding advocates, there are two main reasons the acquisition of a new client takes so long.  Let’s take a look at them.

Continue Reading →


Don’t Let These Headlines Be About You

Posted by:

It happened again this week.  And as I first suggested last Fall, Ripped from the Headlines…. a Warning for Health Advocates, Too we advocates need to pay attention. This isn’t one of those “Oh, that won’t happen to me” moments. It’s easily preventable, and only very wise to do so.

I’m referring to attacks on real estate agents, this time in St. Petersburg, Florida. Two agents showing homes just a few miles apart were attacked at gunpoint, tied up, and robbed – and traumatized.  I don’t think any of us can imagine the horror.

The perpetrator has not been caught (yet) – he’s still out there.  And I guarantee you that today there are real estate agents showing homes by themselves to individuals they have never met – because they all think it can’t happen to them. Fools.

Continue Reading →


Non-Payer? Or Scammer? A New Step for Client Engagement

Posted by:

We hear about scams and frauds every day in the news. An elderly person is convinced to donate money to a scam charity, or doctors defraud Medicare, or someone’s identity is stolen, or the IRS’s website is hacked….

Thing is – like car accidents – we never think a scam can happen to us. So we simply, and naively, go about our days and our business thinking we are somehow immune. We are such nice people, so very giving, and can’t imagine anyone would ever try to take advantage of us…Right?

No. Wrong. Wrong, and expensive.

One of our APHA members confessed to me last week that she had completed almost $6000 worth of work for a woman in another state who needed help with a social security disability filing. She began the relationship well and correctly, sending a contract for signature, and insisting on partial payment up front. But the woman was so very desperate, pleading…  deadlines came up swiftly and needed to be met…… the advocate felt trapped by the desperation and deadlines, jumped right into the work and got it done. The client collected $21,000 in disability payments!  Great job, right?

But the uncrossed T’s and the undotted I’s are now coming back to bite the advocate in the backside… because the client never did return the contract with her signature, paid only $500 to get started … and now refuses both her signature and payment for the remaining balance. Not only does she refuse to sign, or pay, but she is now disputing whether the advocate really did any of the work, claiming she did most of it herself.

Say what?

That’s when the advocate contacted me, wanting to know what recourse she might have to collect. In her email to me she made a statement that provided me with one of those lightbulb moments – OMG – this signals the need for a whole new step in an advocate’s prep for working with a new client.

Continue Reading →

Page 1 of 28 12345...»