Coloring Outside the Lines

When people ask you what you do for a living, what do you – as an independent health / patient advocate, or care manager — reply to them?

It would be simple to say “I am an advocate” which, then, may require further explanation. That further explanation would likely include examples of the kinds of work you do (I attend doctor appointments with seniors. Or, I manage medical bills and negotiate them when they are too high. Or I help people figure out what their own choices are for treatments… or…. )

That further explanation is always valuable, especially if the person asks you additional questions – meaning you have engaged them. And they often do! They also tend to launch into stories on their own, beginning with “Where were you when….” and then relate some horrible situation they or their loved one found themselves in. At that point you know they understand.

But this week, during a conversation with a gentleman who wants to jump into “our” world, I found myself telling him…

What advocates are more often called to do is to color outside the lines to get their clients what they need.

And a phrase was born – a phrase all independent advocates can use in a variety of situations, as follows:

“What is the difference between what you do, and what I can get from the patient advocate in the hospital?”

Hospital patient advocates are required to follow the hospital’s rules. They work for the hospital. Their allegiance is to the hospital. But sometimes what patients need doesn’t fit inside specific rules. So as an independent advocate, what I do is get you what you need in whatever way it needs to be done. I have the ability, and the liberty, to color outside the lines if necessary.

“Why can’t I just advocate for myself? Why do I need to hire someone to do it for me?”

You don’t have to hire someone! Of course you can advocate for yourself! But do you know the specific aspects of healthcare where you can apply the pressure that needs to be applied? Do you know what the resources are for getting what you need? Are you sure you even know the questions to ask, and who to ask? As a professional advocate, I know precisely when to follow the rules, and then, when necessary, how to color outside the lines to get what my client needs.

“How can you make those better things happen for me when my insurance company is doing its level best to stand in your way?”

Because I know when to follow the chain of command – and then I know when that’s not working and that it’s time, instead, to color outside the lines. Very few patients get what they need from the system if they simply follow what they are being told. I am an expert in finding the resources they don’t want you, as the patient, to know about.

In a previous post on a similar topic, I gave it a bit of a different name – hustle. But of course, in the case of independent advocacy, they both mean pretty much the same thing. It’s about creativity. It’s about not being bound by someone else’s rules – rules they have imposed so they can control the situation. It’s about making waves where they need to be made, and not being afraid to go over heads to get what your client needs. It’s about realizing there is more than one way to improve a result or an outcome, and not letting system-imposed constraints keep you from getting that for your client.

“Coloring outside the lines” – try it on for size! Practice telling people that, as an independent advocate or care manager, your expertise is in identifying what they need to improve their outcomes, then, when necessary, coloring outside the lines to get it.


4 thoughts on “Coloring Outside the Lines”

  1. Bridget Jablonski

    This is EXCELLENT! I often find myself trying to explain to people at networking gatherings as you initially described, but I love the outside the lines visual. Thank you!

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