A Patient Advocate Is Just Like….

In a conversation with a group of friends, Lisa told us she has decided to buy her first house. She feels like the market is right – prices are low, interest rates are low – so why not take the plunge?

We responded by providing advice to her based on our own experiences with buying homes. “Be sure to get it inspected.” “Shop around for mortgage rates.” “Sign a contract with a buyer’s agent, otherwise your interests won’t really be represented.” “Beware of shortsales and bank repos because I’ve heard really bad things about those on the news.” … and more …

Poor Lisa. She became nervous, confused and a bit overwhelmed. “How am I supposed to know all of this? How does anyone buy a house without doing something stupid?”

The answer? They consult an expert to help them. A real estate agent, or a family member or attorney, or someone who has a successful track record of making, or guiding, home purchasers.

It occurred to me that there are dozens of things that people need help with everyday that we consult experts to help us to do:

  • Hairstylists cut our hair, style and (oh yes) color it, too.
  • Wedding planners or bridal consultants are growing in numbers because engaged couples (or moms) don’t have the time or expertise to get their wedding day put together the way they want it.
  • We consult professionals to help us do our taxes each year.
  • Attorneys help us understand the law to write a will, handle a divorce or, like Lisa, buy a house.
  • Loved ones pass away and we turn to the funeral director to help us. Burials are affected by emotions, weather, laws, religion, customs – all kinds of aspects we rarely deal with, but which are extremely important to get right when the time comes.
  • When junior just doesn’t understand math, we hire a tutor for that extra assist.
  • We tap financial advisors to help us sort out investments.
  • A rocky marriage leads to some counseling to get past the rough spots – or to help determine that divorce is the right answer.
  • and more….

Can we do those things ourselves? Well, yes – we can…. people have been cutting and coloring their own hair and doing their kids’ math homework for centuries, planning their own weddings, doing their own taxes, losing money in the stock market, writing their own wills… of course, the list goes on…

These are all personal life management tasks. We have varying degrees of capabilities and expertise. When we know we can’t handle these tasks well enough to either be successful, legal, or to suit ourselves, that’s when we call in the professionals.

In my lifetime, I have never tried to cut my own hair! (At least not since, as a four-year-old, I got ahold of my mother’s scissors….)

Guiding, assisting, navigating, advocating for patients, helping them manage their health and medical care, is no different from any of these other personal services with one major exception. Such guidance can be a life saver. In that way, it’s remarkably more important than any other personal service mentioned above.

I discuss patient advocacy with people every day. They always understand the concept immediately, but that is often followed by, “Yes, but it’s only for people who can afford it.”? Or, they ask if an advocate would be covered by insurance. Or, they state that such services must only be for rich people….

Whereupon I always reply with questions like, “Do you cut your own hair? Do you use a stockbroker? Do you figure and file your own taxes? Have you ever buried a loved one yourself?”

Invariably there will be at least one of those services they tap an expert for. So then I ask, “So do any of those people save your life or prevent you from being put in harm’s way?”

That’s when the Lisa’s of this world really begin to get it. The conversation shifts quickly. Eyes and minds are open to the rest of the discussion about why a patient advocate is so important and necessary when it comes to difficult medical or billing situations. They understand and embrace that the concept is not about affordability – it’s about the right outcome.

If you are having trouble helping people understand the work you do, or if you need help in establishing the value of your work, consider this conversation as a platform for those explanations.

What other service can possibly be so important to any individual when their time of need comes as having a patient advocate to help them achieve what they want and need?

Quality and extended quantity of life – those are the goals. You, the patient advocate, will be the person who helps them get there.

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APHA Blog : The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates
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