Sometimes people ask us if someone close to them can act as their advocate; others come to us asking to join our team, telling us that they learned “on the job” after caring for a loved one. There are times where we agree: there’s no reason why a close confidant can’t be of great value in the exam or hospital room; and someone who has successfully dealt with the increasingly complex medical system most definitely brings great value to those trying to navigate it with no previous experience.
But, it’s important to understand the differences between the comfort of having a loved one in the room, and the services an experienced professional advocacy organization can provide. Some of those are pretty obvious: good patient advocates have been around the block, and can respond effectively to most challenges based on the depth of their experience. Also obvious is the benefit of a team approach: good organizations employ a variety of experts who bring different perspectives and levels of expertise, which can be shared among the team in order to benefit the client. Then there’s the benefit of an objective approach to highly emotional situations. A good company knows how to maintain a level head, no matter the challenge.
What may not be as obvious is the value of working with a team that understands how to run a successful business. A solid company has devoted much of its energy to the process of developing sound business practices and product management. Its members know how to ensure client privacy, they create supportive services, they implement good business practices, and they keep careful records. They understand the financial challenges involved in creating and maintaining a successful business and they treat their employees with respect and care. Some of them are dedicated to helping other companies grow, so that more successful businesses can thrive, making these services available to many more clients.
Most importantly, a great company measures its outcomes and improves its services based on them. Patient advocates may go into business because they are passionate about providing great care, but they stay in business only if they do so. A successful advocacy team creates an iterative process, and its clients benefit from it as the company evolves and grows.
If you’re considering hiring an advocate, by all means ask questions about their team; look into their level of experience and their qualifications. But also be sure to ask if you can look under the “company hood.” Ask questions about how they got into business, what their yearly goals are, what they value most about their business partners. Ask them about ethics, about team practices, about their quality metrics. Find out if they create yearly reports that are available to their clients. Remember: advocates are with you on one of the most important journeys of your life; it’s important that you learn as much as you can about how they do business before you sign a contract!