Misleading Headline Provides an Opportunity

This week the Chicago Tribune featured patient advocacy as a growing trend – a marvelous exposure to private advocacy for the uninitiated (uninitiated = most of the known universe). Several of our APHA members were mentioned in the article and for the most part, it was an excellent representation of the status of private advocacy.

Except for the headline:


Now, most of us are intelligent enough to know that headlines are created to suck in readers, and too often, intentionally focus on some point that doesn’t really represent the story – just draws those readers. And so it was with this headline, too.

It’s unfortunate, because too many of us are guilty of seeing a headline and drawing conclusions, without ever really reading the story. There may be millions of Chicago Tribune readers who saw only the headline and didn’t read the story, and therefore won’t consider contacting a private patient advocate because – as per the headline – they think it will be too expensive to pay for that help.

Sad, but true.

But that headline did one thing very well. That is, it gave us a good opportunity to explore the concept of “costly” – and turn this negative into a positive.

What exactly does “costly” mean?

According to Dictionary.com, the word “costly” means: expensive, high in price, resulting in great detriment, or even lavish or extravagant. (it also says “of great value, sumptuous” – but I doubt that was the conclusion of most who saw that headline.)

Really LOUSY choice of words – for us advocates. But certainly, a word that begged readers to look further (a goal that was far more important than accuracy for the guy who writes headlines for a living.)

So here is our opportunity that results from this lousy choice of words: let’s turn it around to discuss value.

What is the VALUE of paying a private advocate to help? And when we weigh the value against the real cost, do we really see any detriment? Is hiring a patient advocate truly “costly”?

Let’s begin by exploring this concept of value a bit further:

Value is the nexus of what you pay – vs – what you get for that payment. When they balance each other, then you have received par value. When you pay more than the value you received, then you have paid too much – and what you received was too expensive (costly.) When you get more than you paid for, then it’s a bargain. No rocket science there.

Value is defined by the circumstance, and the person who pays, not by seller. If I am at home, and I’m thirsty, I can get a glass of water from the kitchen tap for (practically) free, and paying $2 for a bottle of water seems outrageous. But if I’m in the desert, and dying of thirst, then paying $100 for a bottle of water would seem like an enormous bargain. Water is water – but what is the value of water? It’s defined by me and my circumstance.

So what is the value of having a private patient advocate by one’s side?

If I am perfectly healthy, having few medical issues, if any, then the value to me of having a private advocate might be very little at any price.

BUT! If I have just been diagnosed with cancer, or heart disease, or any other chronic or terminal disease, then I see value very differently. The value of having someone by my side to help me manage my future – my life! – is priceless. I’m scared, uncertain, and uneducated about what’s wrong with me, and my advocate will steer me in the right direction, and help me get what I need, both tangible and intangible; things I can’t get for myself because I don’t know how.

If I am in my 50s, have a few minor medical challenges, and want to talk to my kids about my advance directives, then I’ve got some time, can work at it gradually, and there’s not a compelling reason to get anyone else involved.

But! If I am in my 50s, and I’ve been diagnosed with a terminal disease, and I know that time is of the essence in having these conversations with my children, then the value of having a private advocate who knows how to facilitate those conversations, paperwork and more, becomes extremely valuable to me.

If my medical bills are self-explanatory, seem fair, and are affordable, then paying a medical billing advocate to go through them wouldn’t be particularly valuable to me.

BUT! If my bills are too high, I can’t reconcile them, the charges aren’t clearly explained, or the bills have arrived months later than I expected and no one will give me answers, or I feel like I’ve been charged for something that’s not mine to pay for, then I see the value of a medical billing advocate very differently. That advocate will help me affect those bills in ways I can’t do for myself because I don’t know how.

If I am my father’s caregiver, and Dad is beginning to fail, and I have room in my house and my life so he can move in with me, then no, I probably don’t need an advocate (although one might be really nice to have to help me with Dad.)

BUT! If Dad is having major medical problems, and he can no longer stay in his house, can’t move in with me, I need to move him to a nursing home. To do that, we need to sell his house to pay for it. But my brother (who has always been a PITA) is standing in the way because he thought he would inherit Dad’s house – we are at a stalemate. Hiring a patient advocacy mediator is a great solution, and her value is immense to me. I can’t just can’t juggle Dad, my kids, my husband, my home and my job, by myself, any longer.

So – yes – that’s how we look at value in the realm of patient advocacy. Circumstances and the person who wants and needs the services will define it.

I guarantee that if you talk to the patients who have been helped by private advocates they would tell you the services and outcomes were MORE than worth the expense – they were, in fact, incredibly valuable.


Two more points about the cost of hiring an advocate – value and money – guidelines for how private advocates can discuss charging clients to be sure they understand the value you will bring to the transaction:

  1. Never EVER quote an hourly rate in isolation. NEVER. Don’t do it. It’s a guaranteed way to lose business.
  2. Always create a “package” for the way you will charge a client to do the work so that you get your hourly rate and they feel as if they are getting a bargain – value for their money.

If either of those concepts needs more clarification, you can find explanations in The Health Advocate’s Start and Grow Your Own Practice Handbook

  1. hourly rate: see page 95, Avoiding the Great Pricing Abyss
  2. packages: begin on page 96 – a dozen great ways to package your services

Bottom line: the word “costly” was a poor choice – but it gave us a chance to better understand the value of what we bring to client relationships.

And we are MORE than worth it!

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Share your experience or join the conversation!


1 thought on “Misleading Headline Provides an Opportunity”

  1. Perfect timing! I am just winding down on hours with my first client. After reading this post, I went and grabbed your book that I have referred to many times. After refrencing pages 93-107, I realized that I had used this advise and it worked beautifully. I read both books over a year ago when I decided to open my advocacy practice. I hit a wall when I got to the point in the set-up process, to get my insurance policy. Long story short, everything was on hold for 9 months. When I did get my first client, I used the advice in your book that I read 9 months prior, to outline the billing portion in my first contract. It has been a win-win. I feel that I was paid what I was worth and the client is still singing my praises. Is this realistic for every client, not really. But, I do think it should be the goal and you must be able to adapt to have this outcome be attainable.

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