At least a half dozen times in the past few weeks I’ve been asked what it was that compelled me to start The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, and the AdvoConnection Directory. It occurs to me that even if you are a member, you may not know the story, or, even more importantly, how it can affect the work you do, too.
The story is a classic “aha!” moment story – using experiences to identify a way forward – in this case, starting a new service and business.
Some of you know that my two early careers were first, classroom schoolteacher, then a transition to marketing professional. In my lifetime, I never expected to work or know anything about healthcare except as I needed such services for myself or a loved one. Even through my marketing work, I didn’t have any healthcare marketing clients. My knowledge was limited to my personal experiences….
That was…. until my life-changing terminal diagnosis in the summer of 2004 which, for 11 weeks, led me to believe I had only a few months to live. (You can read about my misdiagnosis odyssey here.) You can see how that turned out. I’m still here.
That was the trigger. I learned plenty over the next few years as I studied, learned, and wrote more and more about the healthcare system’s flaws, and how patients could ramp up their own knowledge to improve their own outcomes despite those flaws, That exposure yielded more and more invitations to speak to large groups across the country about patient empowerment.
Listening to Stories
I met hundreds of patients and caregivers at those presentations. Over and over again they would tell me variations of two stories:
- Yes, I understand that I need to be smart, to read about my diagnosis or treatment, or get a second opinion, or be an active participant in my decision-making – but I’m too sick (or I’m too old, or I’m too tired….) I need help!
- You are so right about needing someone by your side to help out! I spent three years taking care of my Aunt Rosie before she died of cancer. Now that I have all this knowledge about how to get what she needed; I wish I knew how to use this knowledge to help other people. (So I would take their names, locations and email addresses just in case I heard from someone who could help them.)
And boy did I hear from people who needed help! I would run through my list of potential helpers and if I found someone within geographic proximity, I would reply with that person’s name and email address.
A Growing Task Leads to Two Aha! Moments
By the end of 2006, the numbers of ad hoc helper requests amounted to a dozen or more a month. My V-8 moment (picture me hitting my forehead with the palm of my hand) was the realization that the numbers were growing and matching patients to helpers was going to require even more of my time in the future.
Thus – Aha! Moment #1 – the first concept for AdvoConnection, our directory, was born. The web address was registered in early 2007, the site was launched in 2009 – and for the first time, patients and caregivers could find help without me having to be the bridge in the middle.
Yes – an important aha! moment which led to establishment of the first online directory of advocates that could be sorted by locations and services needed – AdvoConnection.com
Aha! Moment #2 came along about a year later. Like this:
Just like they are today, in order for an application to be accepted in the AdvoConnection directory, the applicant was reviewed to make sure the applicant had the experience necessary to really help patients, and a track record – the real presence of a practice. It wasn’t enough for them to have the desire. Without a track record, the answer was no.
Then one day I realized that I was saying “NO” far more than I was saying yes! As any entrepreneur knows, there is something very wrong with that picture… I needed to do something about it…
And thus, the concept for APHA, and PACE memberships were born. Realizing that there existed many people who wanted to take a serious look at advocacy as a profession, and that much of what they needed was business support, it only made sense to create a membership for those who needed that assistance. PACE (Patient Advocate Career Exploration) memberships are intended to do exactly that – guide an advocate wanna-be through the business aspects of starting a practice.
Those two Aha! Moments led us to where we are today – a robust directory for patients to use (AdvoConnection.com), and a membership organization which is helping to grow the profession (The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.)
Recognizing Your Aha! Moments
Aha moments come along almost every day. The key is that you need to watch for them, then do something about them.
You can watch for them by identifying trends that impact your ability to do your job, good and bad, then parlay those trends into services or solutions.
If they are problematic (like my growing need to spend time making email matches), then develop a solution to make them easier.
- Maybe you find potential clients asking the same questions over and over again. Why not build a FAQ brochure to leave behind after a meeting?
- Your insurance won’t allow you to transport clients, and they get frustrated over this fact when you explain it to them. However, you might identify a transportation company that you can rely on, and might be able to negotiate a lower price for clients you refer to them so your client at least realizes you’ve taken care of that need.
If they are good trends, then capitalize on them.
- During Covid, you may have learned how to manage client meetings more efficiently through the use of video. Aha! If you like that approach and it works well for you, why not consider offering that as its own service – reduced pricing maybe (no travel required)?
- If you find your get a lot of calls from potential clients on Saturdays but you aren’t in your office on Saturdays, then consider adjusting your office hours or forwarding your work phone. Answering a call when it comes in is a far better result than playing phone tag over the next several days.
Aha! Moments don’t have to come from major trends. In fact, sometimes they come from the smallest details. The key is to identify those trends, then figure out how you can use them to either improve, or adjust what you are already doing.
What trends and Aha! Moments have you enjoyed that have improved your approach to your advocacy practice? Maybe your Aha! Moment was simply that becoming an advocate would be a good solution for your wish to help patients. Or maybe it has led to a marketing or client service solution…
Will you share your Aha! Moments below?
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