How Is Patient Advocacy Like Doing the Laundry?

Would you ever hire someone to do your laundry?

Many of us would answer Yes! Of course! — IF we had the money. A big IF!

I suspect, however, that most of us would say no, knowing that washers and dryers make it easy to get the family laundry done, even if we dislike the task. Further, we all think we know how to get our clothes clean (short of occasional coffee and ketchup stains). Even if we feel laundry-challenged, it doesn’t seem to be enough of a problem that we would actually pay someone else to do it.

However, last week I met a gentleman, Mr. Santello, who had just hired a woman named Gloria to do his laundry. It turns out that finding someone to wash, dry, and sometimes iron his clothes was more of a challenge than he expected. He said he called 11 different people before finding Gloria, and even then, he had to agree to her “exorbitant prices.”

Why was it so hard for Mr. Santello to find someone to do his laundry?

And how does that apply to patient advocacy?

We have to remember that Gloria isn’t just doing laundry. She is in the BUSINESS of doing laundry. Like advocacy, she provides a SERVICE business that requires her commitment of time, plus expenses like detergent, gas for her car, or marketing, and equipment like her washer, dryer, and iron.

When she takes into account her time and all her expenses, she has figured that she must charge Mr. Santello $100 a week.

Most of us would never consider hiring someone to do our laundry at $100 a week. Gloria’s “exhorbitant prices” just aren’t worth it to us. We don’t VALUE the service of doing laundry enough to pay so much for it because we think we can do it ourselves. That’s good enough.

And that is the key: VALUE.

Is a Patient Advocacy Practice Different from Laundry Service?

Unfortunately, for most potential clients, the service of advocacy is not unlike laundry service.

That’s because patients don’t realize that they don’t know what they don’t know. That means they don’t yet understand the VALUE of having an advocate.

Here’s an example:

Mr. Butler was diagnosed with a type of cancer for which very few treatments exist. Someone suggested he look at possible clinical trials. So his wife went online, did some research, and filled out some forms with all kinds of personal information. After a few weeks of no replies, they were convinced there were no trials for his cancer. Defeated, they simply did what the doctor told them to do, making no choices for themselves. Mr. Butler died eight months later.

Sadly, Mr. Butler may have died because the Butlers didn’t know what they didn’t know. Identifying the right clinical trials, then applying for and being accepted into them, has become a specialty area. In fact, a perfect trial existed not far from where they lived and applications had closed only the day before. An advocate with clinical trails expertise could have gotten Mr. Butler into the trial and possibly saved his life.

When explained that way, we all see the value of an advocate with clinical trial expertise! (Although my guess is that some of you, reading that Mrs. Butler went looking herself for a clinical trial for her husband, thought she was on the right track. Some advocates don’t understand the value of clinical trial expertise either, so how can we expect patients and caregivers to understand?)

As advocates, we know the VALUE we bring to someone who is suffering their journey, both physically and fiscally, through the healthcare system. This is the world we live in every day. We see the toll that suffering takes on patients, caregivers, and families! And that’s why we go into business – to make the road much smoother for them. We know our value. We are worth every penny of the cost!

When someone who needs an advocate sees the VALUE, then they hire one, just like Mr. Santello understood the value Gloria could bring to his wardrobe.

Patient advocates are still a relatively “new” profession, and because people have been alone in their healthcare journeys for so long, and since the healthcare road just wasn’t as challenging until the past decade or so – most people who NEED an advocate don’t yet understand an advocate’s VALUE.

Back to Gloria’s Laundry Service… She has been in business for almost six months. Mr. Santello is her first customer. Unfortunately, unless and until many more people see the value Gloria brings to their laundry, she will not be able to stay in business.

That also explains why Mr. Santello had trouble finding someone to take care of his laundry. Others who started laundry services have already gone out of business.

Do your potential clients see the value you bring to their healthcare journeys?

  • Do they realize they don’t know what they don’t know?
  • Do they know your work is quality-of-life saving, and potentially life saving?
  • Do they understand that your work may preserve their life savings or keep them from going bankrupt?
  • Do they realize that much of your value is your objectivity, and that you have no profit motive in selling them tests, procedures, or treatments they don’t need?
  • Do they know how much peace-of-mind you’ll bring them, providing some relief to the massive stress these situations induce?

Take some time to write down all the ways you bring VALUE to your potential clients. Ask people you have worked with what value you brought to them. Read about value in The Start and Grow Your Own Practice Handbook (schnockers and alligators, pages 91 and 92) so you can best understand how to promote your value to potential clients. Memorize the concepts in You Bet Your Life! The Top 10 Reasons You Need a Professional Patient Advocate by Your Side so you can share them with potential clients at every opportunity.

Once you can articulate your real value to a potential client, then your chances of being hired will increase exponentially. Unlike Gloria – YOU will begin to grow a successful service business.

Then, maybe (just maybe!) you can hire someone to do your laundry, too!


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