“Patient advocacy” is an up-and-coming career
The Entrepreneur Magazine and US News & World Report have identified patient advocacy as a New Age career.
Some of the services that are offered under this broad platform are:
- Medical / Navigational Assistance
- Insurance Assistance
- Home Health Assistance
- Elder or Geriatric Assistance
Patient Advocates in Geriatrics
A professional nurse by the name of Maria Fernandez is assigned a patient, an elderly woman, Sunita who has sustained a fractured humerus and has her right arm in a sling. Because of her advanced age, her orthopedic surgeon is waiting for the physician to ensure she will be able to tolerate the stress of surgery. This worries Sunita, who is wondering why she is being ignored and neglected. Maria ropes in a patient-advocate, another patient of Sunita’s age, who to Maria’s relief is able to strike an instant rapport with Sunita and explains to her that the reason for the delay is that her doctors want her to heal well. The outcome of this advocacy is that Sunita’s surgery goes smoothly as scheduled on the third day of her hospital stay, and she is ready to be discharged on the fourth day.
Before you start your independent practice
Ready to jump on the bandwagon? Good. Your first requirement is a business plan. This serves as your road map to a successful advocacy practice. The plan must spell out your portfolio of services, financial and non-financial resources, your marketing strategy and your prospects for growth. It need not be a lengthy document, but it does need to have all the essential components in place.
Further, you need to determine your business structure. Will you go it alone and be a proprietorship or take on a knowledgeable business associate and register yourself as a partnership firm? You will need to apply for a PAN number in order to be able to file your income tax returns. Since you are considered to be a service provider, you also need a service tax registration number.
A marketing plan will help you define your target clients so you can plan how to reach out to them. Your most important marketing tool is through word of mouth. Network actively with doctors, marketing executives of hospitals, and patient communities (online and real-world). Locate other advocates in your catchment area. Study your competition and find out what services are available and at what price. These days, big hospitals and insurance companies also outsource work to external “patient advocates” or “case managers.” See if that opportunity exists in your area. You may also provide allied services, such as fund-raising, patient education and running outreach programmes to these clients.
The key to building a sound practice is earning your patients’ goodwill. Learn to pamper them. Study their needs and wants and then launch services tailor-made around those requirements. Understanding who you are targeting and finding creative ways of satisfying your customers is critically important for any service-oriented business. You can find more resources at the Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy website at www.shca-aha.org/
Learning the Ropes of the Trade
Those who work for hospitals and other clinical facilities get to discover that dealing with angry and illiterate patients is no child’s play. You may feel frustrated and foiled in your attempts at improving a poor quality hospital service, if the management turns a deaf ear to your suggestions. Your employer may want you to cut down on your advocacy efforts if he finds your recommendations are too expensive for them to implement.
Hospital staff may initially be suspicious of your motives because they don’t understand the role of an advocate. You have to explain to them that your presence at the hospital will allow the patients to have a good experience of their hospital stay. By putting patients first, you are helping to strengthen the hospital brand. There will be stress-filled days, but when you get to lessen someone’s pain and see a smile on a stranger’s face, you will be glad you chose this profession. The emotional income that patient advocacy brings is highly rewarding.