How Aha! Moments Build Businesses

ideaAt least a half dozen times in the past few weeks I’ve been asked what it was that compelled me to begin building AdvoConnection (and, of course, The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.)? It occurs to me that even if you are a member, you may not know the story, or, even more important, how it can affect the work you do, too.

Many readers of this blog know that my two earlier careers were first, as a schoolteacher, then by the early 1980s, I transitioned to marketing. In my lifetime, I never expected to work or know anything about healthcare except as I needed such services for myself or a loved one. I didn’t even have any healthcare marketing clients – my knowledge of healthcare was limited to my personal experiences….

That was…. until my frightening, life-changing terminal diagnosis in the summer of 2004 which, for 11 weeks, led me to believe I had only a few months to live. (You can read about my misdiagnosis odyssey here.)

Over the next few years, as I studied, learned, and wrote more and more about the healthcare system’s flaws, and how patients could ramp up their own knowledge to improve their own outcomes despite those flaws, I had more and more invitations to speak to larger groups across the country about patient empowerment.

There would be dozens or hundreds of patients and caregivers at those presentations. And over and over again they would tell me variations of two stories:

  1. Yes, I understand that I need to be smart, to read about my diagnosis or treatment, or get a second opinion, or be an active participant in my decision-making – but I’m too sick (or I’m too old, or I’m too tired….) I need help.
  2. You are so right about needing someone by your side to help out! I spent three years taking care of my Aunt Rosie before she died of cancer. Now I have all this knowledge about how to get what she needed. I wish I knew how to help other people. (So I would take their names, locations and email addresses just in case I heard from someone who needed help.)

And I did hear from people who needed help. I’d run through my list of potential helpers and if I found someone within proximity (geographical only), I would reply with that person’s name and email address.

By the end of 2006, the numbers of ad hoc helper requests amounted to a dozen or more a month – to where it took me at least a couple of hours responding. But it wasn’t so much the time needed that sparked my V-8 moment (picture me hitting my forehead with the palm of my hand) – it was the realization that the numbers were growing and that it was going to require even more of my time in the future – and that the recognition that there might be someone to help was beginning to grow.

Thus – Aha! Moment #1the first concept for AdvoConnection was born. The web address was registered in early 2007, the site was launched in 2009 – and for the first time, patients and caregivers could find help without me having to be the bridge in the middle.

Yes – an important aha! moment which led to establishment of the first online directory of advocates that could be sorted by locations and services needed –

Aha! Moment #2 came along about a year later. Like this:

Just like they are today, in order for an application to be accepted in the AdvoConnection directory, they were reviewed to make sure the applicant had the experience necessary to really help patients, and a track record – the real presence of a practice. It wasn’t enough for them to have the desire. Without a track record, the answer was no.

Then one day I realized that I was saying “NO” far more than I was saying yes! As any entrepreneur knows, there is something very wrong with that picture… I needed to do something about it…

And thus PACE memberships were born. Realizing that there existed many people who wanted to take a serious look at advocacy as a profession, and that much of what they needed was business support, (and knowing other organizations existed to help out with the advocacy corners of the work), it only made sense to create a membership for those who needed that assistance. PACE (Patient Advocate Career Exploration) memberships are intended to do exactly that – guide an advocate wanna-be through the business aspects of starting a practice.

Those two Aha! Moments led us to where we are today – a robust directory for patients to use (, and a membership organization which is helping to grow the profession (The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.)

Whether or not you are a member of the Alliance, these stories are important to you because you, too, can capitalize on Aha! Moments. But the key is that you need to watch for them, then do something about them.

You can watch for them by identifying trends that impact your ability to do your job, then parlaying those trends into services or solutions.

If they are problematic (like my growing need to spend time making email matches), then develop a solution to make them easier.

  • Maybe you find potential clients asking the same questions over and over again. Why not build a FAQ brochure to leave behind after a meeting?
  • Your insurance won’t allow you to transport clients, and they get frustrated over this fact when you explain it to them. However, if you identify a transportation company that you can rely on, you might be able to negotiate a lower price for clients you refer to them so your client at least realizes you’ve taken care of that need.

If they are good trends, then capitalize on them.

  • If you find that you often get phone calls after you’ve spoken to a group of seniors, then begin fostering those relationships. One Aha! Moment that might result would be the ability to build a niche.
  • If you find your get a lot of calls from potential clients on Saturdays but you aren’t in your office on Saturdays, then consider adjusting your office hours or forwarding your work phone. Answering a call when it comes in is a far better result than playing phone tag over the next several days.

Aha! Moments don’t have to come from major trends. In fact, sometimes they come from the smallest details. The key is to identify those trends, then figure out how you can use them to either improve, or adjust what you are already doing.


What trends and Aha! Moments have you enjoyed that have improved your approach to your advocacy practice> Maybe your Aha! Moment was simply that becoming an advocate would be a good solution for your wish to help patients. Or maybe it has led to a marketing or client service solution…

Will you share your Aha! Moments below?


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2 thoughts on “How Aha! Moments Build Businesses”

  1. Stephanie Dumstorf

    Aha! Moments are a great teacher! I recently accompanied a patient to a “simple” procedure that evolved into a nightmare for her. My Aha! moment included noting names of individual care providers in the hospital and times of promised care. Her case was not unusual in that she was receiving a procedure to help future cancer treatment.

    In this case the hospital did not relay that information to the various departments she was sent to, and when she was transferred from ICU to medical /surgery floor, she was just left. When she was supposed to be an outpatient, she was not released until 4 p.m. the day following her procedure. Her blood pressure kept rising because no one seemed to know why she was there.

    Thanks for the forum! Hospital social workers just kept telling her the hospitalist had to release her.
    Stephanie Dumstorf

  2. Your Aha Moment Stephanie can become our Aha Moment too! Thanks for you r enlightening post!

    As a nurse for many years,In home health, medical surgical, assisted living and rehabilitation centers, I witnessed the endless patient agonies due to failure to communicate properly,either person to person or inter-departmentally. I taught and was excited about improving the processes for nursing procedures and was exhilarated by the resultant patients’ satisfaction and often improved health,safety or emotional well being.

    Your Aha Moment is helping me to clarify what I like so much about Patient Advocacy Service! . Now as an Advocate one can focus mainly on the patient and family without feeling the routine stress and confines of an 8 shift. Each Forum member will identify with the “patient nightmare” in a very different way! Thank you Stephanie for my Aha Moment!

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