The shocking news last week (although not-so-shocking to some) that Matt Lauer had been kicked to the curb by NBC came in tandem with an email conversation with a newly minted health advocate who wanted to be listed in the AdvoConnection Directory, but who has a little (not so little) problem with her website and marketing materials.
It struck me that Lauer’s behavior, as he faced accusations, even though the circumstances are NOT at all the same, provides a lesson to share with you.
Of course, Lauer was jettisoned because he was hitting on women inappropriately using his status as a well-known TV professional and personality.
Part of the surprise was that his dismissal came so quickly. No women had come forward publicly to accuse him. Further, it seemed he was let go before he had a chance to defend himself. Later we learned that NBC had previously discussed with him several rumors that this egregious behavior was taking place – but he had denied the allegations.
Lauer had lied, plain and simple. Therefore, because his actions spoke far louder than his words, those actions caught up to him.
Now he has paid the price.
My email conversation with the new advocate was far different from Matt Lauer’s situation, of course. No nefarious or loutish behavior here! It was about three professionals with the best of intentions who want to do the right thing for people who need assistance as they navigate the healthcare system.
But our discussion was based on the same adage – that actions speak louder than words, and that they can catch up to us.
The advocate and her business partners are all physicians. Two are retired and no longer licensed. They have decided to work together to build an advocacy practice. I love that!
The problem is that their website and practice brochures are riddled with photos of medical personnel – white coats, stethoscopes, and all. Further, the name of their company is a medical name, and the text throughout the website is about hiring doctors to help. There are no disclaimers.
If you are new to our world of private advocacy and care management, you might wonder why this is a problem, or why it would be necessary to include disclaimers. Understanding both is imperative as you establish and grow a practice and your reputation.
The problem is that patient / health advocacy is NOT a medical profession. We are not certified, licensed, or recognized as medical professionals. We are facilitators, guides, assistants, teachers, maybe even counselors – but as advocates, we are not medical professionals.
In addition, our codes of ethics and conduct are very clear and consistent on that non-medical stance. Whether you embrace the APHA Code, the NAHAC Code, or the Code published by the PACBoard (Patient Advocate Certification) – they clearly state that we do not provide hands on medical work as patient or health advocates.*
When your marketing materials represent you as one thing, but your Code of Ethics, verbal representations, and contracts say something else, you cause confusion. When your words and actions aren’t consistent with each other, that confusion can lead to a lack of trust. NO ONE is going to hire (much less pay) an advocate they can’t trust. That can cost you your practice.
Finally, the expensive piper to pay is advocacy insurance. We’ve discussed before that insurers who underwrite an advocate’s liability or Errors & Omissions insurance, upon finding that an advocate has represented him/herself as medical, will not pay out in the event of a lawsuit. So, no matter that the advocate has paid hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars in advocacy policy premiums – based on actions, insurers will not believe words.
I hope you see the problem now. While our member’s website and marketing materials are handsome, they misrepresent health and patient advocacy.
Now – clearly – many advocates come to this work from a clinical background. Nurses, physicians, and others have spent lifetimes in educations and careers, hospitals and practices doing medical work. For many reasons, mostly rooted in their wish to sincerely advocate for patients instead of dance to the tune of administrators or health insurance companies, they decide to shift their work to independent advocacy.
Frankly, those with such solid clinical backgrounds SHOULD be spotlighting their extensive medical backgrounds, because those are solid credentials for many aspects of advocacy!
So – how to do it right? The solution is to carefully meld the two concepts when it comes to marketing. The right and best approach is to:
- Be sure text and images are non-medical so that people get the right non-medical impression at a glance.
- Discuss your medical experience (not services) in the content (“About”)
- Include disclaimers, preferably on every page of your website.
“My 30 years past experience as a nurse can help you navigate the system” is very different from showcasing photos of doctors and nurses using stethoscopes and charting patients. Adding disclaiming statements such as “We do not provide medical advice.” will go a long way toward managing expectations as long as they are front, center, and clear.
The point is not to de-emphasize your experience and credentials. Rather, it’s to put them in their rightful place in the context of professional advocacy, ensuring the correct first impression, yet assurance that your vast medical experience will smooth their journeys.
Do not put your practice, and the hundreds of future clients you might help during your advocacy career, in jeopardy by acting as one thing while you give lip service to something else. It’s confusing and troublesome at least, and career-ending at worst.
Ask Matt Lauer. It’s just not worth it.
- The Health Advocate’s Code of Conduct and Professional Standards
- Mixed Messages Are Just a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen
- Fool Me Once, Shame on You, But Fool Me Twice
*As an aside, with a word from the wise – be VERY clear on this point when you take the patient advocate certification exam!