The 2017 Advocates’ Challenges

Since I started this blog, and as each new year begins, I try to think of ways to challenge advocate-readers (and advocate-wannabe-readers) with ways they can improve their work, their results for clients, and their businesses, too.

This year, that task is so very simple. Unfortunately, that’s not the good news. Sadly, it’s more like the bad news.

Bad news – because this year’s challenges all come from complaints and problems I’ve been asked to respond to – or even fix – in just the past few months. Oh how I dislike this part of my work! I hate dealing with complaints – hearing them from people who feel they have been wronged, attempting to be reassuring, defending some of the actions they think were wrong…. And I hate fixing problems, no matter whether I caused them myself, or they have to be fixed for someone else. I suspect you feel exactly the same way.

My biggest concern, which you’ll understand as you read this post, is that not attending to these problems may invite even bigger ones.

So today I’m going to address three of them, all of which YOU can pay attention to, and make sure you’re doing them right yourself. They set the stage for this year’s challenges, turning negatives into positives. There are lessons – and challenges – here for us all.

  • One regards the manners your mama taught you. Manners are important in a profession with integrity.
  • One is about damaging relationships with other professionals. Collaboration and cooperation are key components of our profession. 
  • The third is a major communication problem – the nexus between competency and communication. One of those situations has turned into a lawsuit waiting to happen – a situation you must avoid.

So – that’s the crux of this post: turning these complaints and problems into lessons we can all learn from and act upon to improve our service to others, our support of our profession, and the business of being in practice for ourselves.

Here they are in no particular order. Please assess for yourself where you stand, and ask yourself if fulfilling these challenges is something YOU need to work on this year:

1.Be Courteous. Use your pleases and thank-yous!

(Do I sound like your mother?) I’m sure you think it’s ridiculous that I would have to blog this point, but here is the complaint from one of our members:

In the past month, I have made two different referrals to other APHA members. Neither of the advocates I recommended ever circled back with me and said thank you for the referral. I know for sure that one was engaged.

Seriously? Someone sends a colleague paying business, or even possibly paying business, and the receiver can’t manage a thank you?

But I know it’s true because I see it myself every day. I am asked questions about advocacy or business by 20 or 25 individuals each week. Questions about coursework, or certification, or marketing, or – you name it. I take the time to answer them as completely as I can. I provide additional resources. I’m as supportive as possible. I spend a great deal of time on their responses. And only about half of the people who ask ever reply at all – not even with a quick email to say thank you.

No one is asking for formal, hand-written thank you notes or an expensive flower delivery. Using pleases and thank-you’s is just common courtesy. So here’s the challenge for those of you who lack those manners – for heaven sake – send a quick thank you email!

2. Recognize and Promote the Value of Your Work

I’ve said it before many times – you aren’t charging enough! Here is a complaint shared by an APHA member who has connected with geriatric care managers to do some collaboration:

She met with resistance – in particular one GCM (now known as an Aging Life Care Specialist) who had soured on the idea of collaborating with health or patient advocates explaining, “The advocates are hurting her business because they are lowballing bids” – and costing her work.

One of the important reasons you should not be under-charging for your work is because it brings down the whole profession. You may think it’s making you more competitive, but in fact, it is having the opposite effect. Not only do people think you are less competent because you don’t charge enough, but clearly (as seen above), other professionals are taking notice – very negative notice – too. Learn more about this problem, and how to fix it, here:

Your challenge – raise your prices!

3. Practice within Your Competency

This is a complaint I am hearing more frequently, and in one case, I believe it may end in a lawsuit.

During a phone conversation with a long-time member, she told me she had been contacted recently by two potential clients who had already engaged with other advocates, both of whom made promises they couldn’t keep because they really didn’t know what they were doing, and now needed this advocate to fix their problems.

Those advocates had practiced outside their competencies. Those clients were (rightfully) upset. Time and money had been lost.

Wrong! So very wrong!

From personal experience: I am now in a conversation with a patient-client who claims he has lost about $20,000 that should have been recouped by the advocate he hired. Further, that advocate won’t give him any information. She claims she has her attorney working on it; but she won’t tell him who the attorney is. She claims she has spoken with the insurer several times, but she won’t tell him what was discussed or what the outcomes are. She has stopped returning his phone calls.

The list of wrongs goes on, but clearly this advocate needs correction, or needs to stop practicing. She is violating our ethical standards. She is breaking from best practices. At the very least, she is not communicating openly with her clients. She may be practicing outside her competency. Her work is wholly substandard.

APHA is taking steps to try to deal with advocates who are behaving in such ways. We have pulled together a working group that will develop a complaint process that clients can use when issues like this come up. APHA members will hear more about it once the process is developed.

For your part, be sure you are only working inside the boundaries of the work you know how to do. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t allow someone to pay you for a service you can’t really provide. This begins with your AdvoConnection Directory profile – don’t list services you can’t manage yourself, or with an already-signed collaboration agreement with another advocate. Then, be sure you make clear your capabilities during phone calls and emails you share with clients (potential or already-engaged) so there is no misunderstanding.

Always, under all circumstances, communicate clearly and regularly with your client. Stay transparent and open with every step you take on their behalf. If you don’t, you are a lawsuit waiting to happen. Those lawsuits will be filed for communication problems as often as they are for broken promises or missteps. Don’t be the advocate who gets sued.

4. Turn Negatives into Positives

When you are feeling frustrated by your work or your clients, when your day ends on a sour note, when you don’t get an answer you expected or you hoped for, try not to dwell on the negative. Get past it by asking yourself, “what can I learn from this experience?” or “What can I do differently the next time?”

Negatives never move anyone forward unless they are turned on their ears. Just like this post.

So there are our challenges for this year. Remember – APHA is here to help when there are questions or gray areas!

I wish you great success – because your success means patients and caregivers will have benefited and, after all, THAT is what it’s all about.


4 thoughts on “The 2017 Advocates’ Challenges”

  1. Trisha,
    As always, your post is eye-opening and spot on. I can personally attest to how amazing you are with all that you do for this growing profession. It’s not easy wearing numerous hats simultaneously. Yet, no matter how many balls you may be jugging at the moment, you always respond to an email or request, many times almost immediately. It’s very unfortunate that being grateful sometimes falls by the wayside. Thank you for all that you do, the time you invest, and all that you sacrifice to help all of us along the way.

    1. Grace – you say many nice things and I appreciate them 🙂

      I don’t want the takeaway here to be that I’m waiting for people to be appreciative of my efforts! I hope the takeaway will be that we all need to be gracious to each other, and appreciate the support others provide. The best way to do that is to simply, and appropriately, say thank you.

      Hope that point was clear!

  2. Thanks, Trisha, for your post. I especially appreciated your comments about our staying within our competencies. I feel that I am very clear about my areas of expertise (medical navigation, research) and also those areas ( billing, insurance appeals) where my skills are lacking and where I have little interest. To that end, I am working on establishing liaisons with advocates whose expertise can complement mine.

    It is inconceivable to me that the recipient of a referral would not thank the referring person. If I was making the referral, I don’t think I would refer again to that person, even if I thought she/he could best handle the case. That’s just rude. Part of being a good advocate is to be a decent and caring individual.

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