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I think employers have this unique opportunity to really provide those resources and tools and help educate their population. The confidence you have when you walk into a doctor’s office, you know, it really does help, I think, to kind of get through the moment.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink. With me is my friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice.
Our topic today is patient advocacy. You know, Susan, I’ve heard people say many times that you or I need to or should be advocating for ourselves or others. I have a dear friend, as an example, whose mother lives in a nursing facility, and she is constantly advocating for the care of her mother. She works full time and it is a constant worry for her. But I have never thought of this as a role in an organization and/or as a company benefit, so I started to do some homework. So what is a patient advocate? Well, this role is important for patients, not only for communication, but also for their mental and emotional health needs as well. Sometimes all a patient wants and needs from their patient advocate is someone to listen to their fears and concerns. Another vital part of patient advocacy is the need for patients to have someone explain medical terms and procedures to them that they might not understand. If a patient is trying to decide whether to accept medical treatment or not, they might look to their advocate to fully explain their options. Advocates, though, should be respectful of patient decisions and only explain facts and not share opinions. A good patient advocate can empower individuals or families to make informed choices by educating them about the patient’s medical conditions, asking physicians questions the patient might not know to ask, and researching a patient’s full range of treatment options. They also act as a liaison between patients and providers, look out for a patient while they are receiving treatment, and ensure that insurance claims get paid.
I don’t want to face a medical incident without a patient advocate. Oh my gosh, this would be so helpful.
I agree. Even more things they might do… They might also provide follow up to help with a patient’s care by translating the doctor’s instructions. You know, one of the many challenges facing doctors today is how to help patients who can’t manage their own care. Some might be senior orphans, elderly, or alone, and others are reeling from a crisis or a diagnosis that’s beyond what they can handle. Many have families who are too far away or too busy at work to handle complex caregiving needs. And this situation most certainly impacts the employee caregiver’s job performance. So listen to this stat. 53 million Americans are absent from work each year to assist with the health care of their family and friends.
Yeah. 70% of those 53 million Americans suffer some work-related difficulty because of it. For instance, they might have to reduce their hours or take time off or take a demotion just because they can’t handle their current role and do that at the same time. There could be performance warnings, maybe loss of benefits, and may even have to give up working entirely for a while. They say that caregiver absenteeism costs the US economy 17.1 to 33 billion dollars annually. And that’s only the absenteeism and not about the presenteeism, when employees are at work but not productive because of this stress, lack of sleep, worry, personal phone calls, whatever that might be. So companies could do well to consider offering the services of a patient advocate to help alleviate some of this stress on their employees. The advocate could provide telehealth private consultations or even address the employees as a group with helpful tips and information. Companies can craft this position to take on many services or just a few. Here are some examples not previously mentioned…
They could resolve insurance claims, file appeals on claims, which we know can take a long time to do and to do well, research information about insurance plans, and find doctors to support specific health conditions, and research drug discounts. They may also remind employees about company benefits employees might have forgotten about, like the EAP, or accommodations available under ADA regulations, or FMLA. Or maybe they just need someone to listen to them. It’s a benefit that likely won’t be needed for everyone, but the ones who do will feel very appreciated and loyal because of it. I think about in my own life when I was going through medical conditions, just having somebody else to help advocate for me and a second person to talk to or to listen to me would have been so helpful. And when my daughter was faced with a pretty significant diagnosis, trying to figure out where to get the best care, how to be able to afford the drugs, all these things, I would have loved to have a patient advocate. If my employer had provided that, I… I think I would have been even more loyal and happy to be there.
I agree. Well, we’ve invited a guest today to help us understand patient advocacy. Lauren Winans is the chief executive officer and principal HR consultant for Next Level Benefits, an HR consulting practice in the Pittsburgh area. Lauren is also a member of our Powered by Purple Ink network.
Lauren, thank you so much for joining today.
Thank you for having me.
Absolutely. Our first question is, how would you define patient advocacy, and how do you think it shows up in daily life?
There’s so many different definitions to patient advocacy, but the one that I… most resonates with me is, you know, really thinking about, you know, when you’re in that doctor’s office, being able to kind of advocate for yourself. Um, there are physicians that you might go and see, and you might feel uncomfortable or maybe feel like you’re the smartest one in the room. And that may well be true, however, you know, you still need to have your voice, you still need to, you know, be thinking about asking the right questions and understanding what your options might be if a treatment is required. And so patient advocacy is really kind of encompassing that. It’s really championing your ability to, you know, really kind of connect the dots in terms of what the doctor is providing you, but know that you also have other resources to ensure that you’re receiving the right care and not feeling threatened, you know, by the white coat, or by, you know, the doctor’s, you know, wealth of knowledge, you know, you’re… you’re… you’re welcome to ask questions and to better understand what… what it is that they’re sharing with you. And I think that there’s a lot of folks who enter those situations a little scared. They might either be scared or hesitant to advocate for themselves, ask questions, maybe question… Why do I need that bloodwork? Why do I need that CT scan? And then I think there’s also some people who might just 100% defer to the doctor to make all of their decisions for them. And, you know, I think through a lot of experience, as well as, you know, stories that you hear, and just being a very active part of your… your healthcare experience, I think we’ve all kind of learned that it’s important to advocate for yourself in those situations and to ask the right questions. And so when I think of patient advocacy, that’s how I interpret it, and that is something that, you know, I spend a lot of time outside of my day job really trying to, you know, volunteer in certain organizations to kind of promote that patient advocacy mindset when you’re experiencing a healthcare situation, or you’re there for a close family member, maybe a spouse, maybe a child, maybe a parent. When you’re able to help others advocate for themselves as well, it’s also a great form of patient advocacy.
I have to tell you, I am not very good at being an advocate for myself in health care. I… and one of my sisters is a physician and, you know, sometimes I’ll tell her like, “Oh, I went to the doctor today,” and she’ll say, “Did you ask them this or that?” and I’m like, “No,” and then she’ll say… I’ll say like, “Well, they gave me a prescription.” and she’ll say, like, “What’s it for?” and I’m like, “I don’t know, I didn’t really pay attention to the name,” or, you know… so I feel like I’m an educated person that should know better to do that. But let’s kind of take that same question, and what if we said not just about patient advocacy, but why is it important for our employees to advocate for themselves?
It’s important for them because they might not realize that they can. So that is number one. I think employers have a unique opportunity, particularly those that are offering employer-sponsored health care, they have a unique opportunity to, you know, to really kind of define patient advocacy, to help employees understand what it is, to give them the tools and the resources to educate themselves if they need it, to get maybe second opinions or to have access to reputable sources to help… help them understand maybe some conditions that they might have been diagnosed with. So it’s… it’s important, I think, for employers to kind of look at it from a educational standpoint, because it’s not only going to help empower employees, but employees’ll be walking into those situations feeling much more confident, and honestly have the… the sense to even maybe ask those specific questions of… “What is this prescription for?” And it’s something that I think we all go through, right? Like, nobody wants to be in the doctor’s office, and sometimes your emotions take over. And, you know, even the smartest person in the world is going to maybe go blank at some point during those those… those office visits, because it can be scary, especially if you’re hearing news that’s not all that fun to hear or you do have to be put on a prescription drug, and your emotions can sometimes take over and your logic doesn’t always exist in those moments. But you know, I think employees need to see that it’s… it’s okay. It’s okay to ask questions, it’s okay to leverage resources. And I think employers have this unique opportunity to really provide those resources and tools and help educate their population. The confidence you have when you walk into a doctor’s office, you know, it really does help, I think, to kind of get through the moment, especially if it’s something that you might have to deal with for a while. And I also think, you know… I hate to bring it back to the bottom line, but there is, you know, a benefit to employers really spending the time educating their employees on a variety of aspects of the healthcare industry, particularly advocacy, because maybe you don’t need that blood work, maybe you don’t need that prescription. And if an employee knows that they can ask questions and maybe get more information before they commit to a source of treatment or a treatment plan, that could be potentially saving themselves and the employer some money in, you know, future services that may not be necessary. So I think there’s, you know, a wide variety of reasons why an employee would want to do it, and there’s just as many… just as many reasons as an employer, that employer would want to also teach employees what they need to know about patient advocacy.
Lauren, that makes such good sense to me, because I think employers want to be caring, and they want to be supportive, but they also have to worry about that bottom line, about being productive. So if they want to invest money in figuring out how to be a really good supporter of patient advocacy, there’s got to be a good business case for them doing it. So my guess is just for the reasons you said, educating your employees to push back, challenge, make sure that they’re really getting what they need when they need it… It’s got to make good business sense for them.
It does. And you know, and I think it… I mean, I know when I was, you know, prior to my consulting days here, you know, in the corporate benefits director roles that I had had, it also, you know, it feels good to give people a sense of empowerment and to explain to them that they have the ability to ask questions and to… and to learn. Not everyone knows everything about, you know, the way healthcare works, and they don’t necessarily know everything about Western medicine, and it’s an opportunity to kind of, you know, help people to know that they’re not alone and that they have resources. And you know, it’s rewarding for the employer too, to be able to kind of help their employees just be better stewards and be more engaged in their health care in a way that makes sense for them, that’s going to be best for them, and have that byproduct be that you do get to hopefully have some cost avoidance that comes with it.
I love it. Can you give us – or give our listeners, really – some tactical things that employers can do to be more supportive of patient advocacy?
Yeah, the thing that, you know, I think is a great starting point is offering educational tools. So, you know, that could be, you know, helping employees to know which websites to go to if they’re trying to learn more about a particular condition, or maybe they’re trying to, you know, search for symptoms to see if they do need to see a doctor, you know, maybe they’re unsure if they need to go to the emergency room or urgent care or maybe just their PCP’s office. So educational tools can really go a long way, and that can be as simple as creating one-page reference tools that can be put out on a benefits portal or sent out and disseminated to employees to reference when they need it. And that doesn’t cost you anything to do. And so, you know, it can be something as simple as that. But, you know, I think what I’m seeing a lot of our clients and as well as just employers, in general, doing in employer-sponsored health care is really looking to point solutions as well. There’s a lot of services out there that you could potentially invest dollars into that provide a level of advocacy to employees to help them navigate the healthcare system. And so some services, like, Health Advocate is one of those. There’s a couple of different services as well that are focused on helping with second opinion of really complex medical situations, like, Best Doctors would be one of those. And so there’s… there’s vendors out there that have built models that can be essentially acting as an extension of an employer to really help an employee have the right resources and tools when they need it. And I think we all know, you know, we don’t really think about health insurance and health care until we’re faced with a situation where we need to use it and we might need some care, and so making sure that employees know where to go for this information is really critical. So it’s one thing to have a program or to invest some dollars in some resources and tools, and it’s another thing for people to know where to go when they need them and that they exist. So communication is really important, being transparent with your employees about the different resources that they have and the process that maybe they should go through if they’re in a situation where they might be faced with, you know, needing to learn a little bit more about what care they need to have in moving forward for a particular condition. I think also, too, there are some employers who go really far into the advocacy model, which… there probably is never a too far place to be on that spectrum. But, you know, I’ve seen some employers go as far as, you know, helping employees to get to different parts of the country to get the best care. Maybe they’re located, you know, in a state that doesn’t have access to the best cancer care, and an employer is willing to pay for travel expenses to get them to MD Anderson or maybe Cleveland Clinic to get services that would be valuable to them, as well as maybe more cost efficient… efficient for the employer. So you know, advocacy kind of runs a spectrum in a way. You know, it can start with communication and tools and education that is going to be kind of geared towards helping an employee understand advocacy, all the way up to actually, you know, employers putting out dollars to help people get the right care where they need it when they need it.
So Lauren, if I’m a listener right now who’s in HR, or maybe just a business leader listening to this, and I’m thinking, like, “Wow, I hadn’t even thought about this before. This is good stuff. I want to do this, I want to educate our people.” Where… and you mentioned a couple of sources that they could go to, but, like, how do I find out what I need to educate them on or where I should tell people to go?
I always recommend that your first stop be some of the partners that you currently have that you’re already paying for services, right? So I think first stop might be the medical insurer who is handling your employer-sponsored medical plan. It could also be your broker, or any sort of actuaries or consultants that you might be using that kind of help you figure out your renewal each year or what decisions to make. Those are always really good places to start, because you’re already paying these individuals to help you manage your plan, and they do have recommendations around how to attack advocacy and what type of programs might be available to you already through the services that you’re paying for. That would be probably my first stop. You know, second stop would also be definitely, you know, if you are working for an organization that has its own benefits group, benefits department, benefits expert, you know, they might have some… some tips and tricks that they might be able to kind of implement quickly that they’ve experienced at, you know, prior employers, so always kind of, you know, keeping them in the loop of really understanding, you know, what your thought process is and where you want to take this and to see what type of creative solutions they can come up with, with their contacts, you know, could be could be really helpful as well. And then lastly, you know, I would say there’s a lot of great sources out there that kind of help to explain the conundrums that we are all in when we use the healthcare system. Some sources I find really reputable, one of which is the Kaiser Family Foundation, they have a wealth of information on their website. It’s mainly data-driven, but they also have a lot of resources around particular concepts within the healthcare industry and advocacy being one of those. And they do a really great job of kind of, you know, listing out what are some of those sources or those vendors that are really great to partner with or to take a look at and consider implementing into your existing benefits plan. And they’re a pretty impartial party, they don’t have a… you know, a pony in the race. And so I think when you’re looking for how to introduce advocacy into your organization or your benefits plan, you want to go to some sources that aren’t necessarily focused on making a buck off of this type of benefit option that you could potentially layer in. So those would be some of my suggestions. You know, you can also go to external HR consultants, or you know, external benefits consultants that might have some experiences from past employers who can also share information with you. But your best bet is to kind of start with the people you’re already paying to manage your plan, and they can absolutely point you into some great directions.
Great advice. What advice can you give our listeners on creating more joy at work?
I would have to say that, for me, I really started to bring joy into my daily workplace, so to speak – I work from home – but into my daily workspace, when I really sat down and thought about what motivates me and what gets me excited about doing the work that I’m doing and finding ways to do more of that in my day each day. I mean, we all… there’s always something that’s a part of our job description or part of our day that we don’t absolutely love, right? And we have to do it, right? But if we can find the things that give us joy and make us happy, whether that be tactical doing tasks, or maybe it’s just having a moment to reconnect with colleagues, or maybe it’s having an opportunity to mentor another employee, you know, I think identifying what… what you like about your job, and finding ways to put more of that in your day every day can really bring a lot of joy and maybe shift your perspective a little bit if things have been stressful or tiring or almost feel, like, impossible. You know, so if you focus on the things that do bring you joy each day, I think that is a great way to start. I know for me personally, autonomy and flexibility was something that I craved for many, many years. And now that now that I’m doing what I’m doing as a consultant, I have both of those things. And so each day feels more joyful than, you know, some of my past days and in other settings, because I’ve been able to identify what really is enjoyable to me and I found a way to implement that in my daily life.
Love it. Well said.
So Lauren, before we let you go, how could our listeners reach you if they want to further this conversation or were interested in your consulting?
Oh, thank you for asking. So my company’s Next Level Benefits. Our website is nlbenefits.com. It’s Next Level abbreviated – nlbenefits.com. You can reach me through the website, you can reach me on LinkedIn, you can email me directly at Lauren at nlbenefits.com. Be happy to continue the conversation, be a thought partner as you’re figuring out the next best steps, and we’ll also be you know, happy to chat with you about future opportunities.
Excellent. And we’ll put your contact information that you mentioned in our show notes as well, too.
Thanks for being here.
So JoDee, we have a listener question today. We welcome questions from any of our listeners anytime. The following question came from a listener of one of our January 2018 podcasts. “What is the best way to balance the HR workload and determine when you need to have additional HR support via additional hires, vendors, or staffing?”
So Susan, I’ll admit I’ve heard lots of different numbers on this, so I Googled this question. My question was, What is the best ratio for HR staff to total employees? The most popular answer was 1.4 HR staff per 100 employees. And that made sense to me. There were though numerous websites with this information – Indeed, SHRM, Bloomberg, and many more – so if you want to do your own homework, there’s lots of different sources out there. And that’s my answer to you, is to think about doing some homework. See if there are more specific ratios based on your industry or company size and use this information to prepare a business case to your leader or leadership teams. Consider questions such as, What could the HR team be doing if you had more people? and What is not getting done in HR because you don’t have enough people? Is your organization seasonal, or do you just need help catching up on a project or during benefits enrollment time, or when a large group of hires are going through orientation? In those cases, you might think about bringing in someone for from the outside – a contractor, temporary help of some kind. And the more specific your requests are, the more likely they will get approved. Then determine which type of assistance you may need. As I mentioned, maybe you just need short-term staffing for a project or an independent contractor. You might also need an HR consulting firm or someone specialized in a particular area of HR, like benefits or recruiting or HR technology, and be prepared with costs and/or budgets. You know, I do also want to add that we have always used a rule of thumb that you should have some type of HR presence, whether it’s part-time or full-time, when you have 50 people on board.
Yes, because of the laws that tend to go into effect for people with 50 or more employees. It does make sense.
Yeah. So in our in the news today, Preply surveyed 1,000 people and asked them about their perceptions of office buzzwords, and let’s just say that not all of them. land well. So, some key findings from this survey. “The new normal” is the most annoying new buzzword of the year. Gen Z is making the word “vibe” more prevalent in the workplace. “FYI” is the most used buzzword, and “circle back” is the most annoying. The phrase “like a family” is the most annoying to see when job searching. Little side note on that – I totally agree. I don’t really want my workplace to be like my family. I just think those are two different groups.
Sure. And then finally, jargon found the least annoying – so it’s okay to say these – “sync,” “push back,” “pipeline,” “level set,” “have in the back pocket,” “window of opportunity,” “loop in,” “align,” “take offline,” and “on the same page.” I’m surprised “on the same page” isn’t annoying to anybody – that’s a little annoying to me, but the others I’m good with.
That’s been around for so long, too. It’s not a new one. So I was a bit surprised at that as well.
I have to admit, I think I used “circle back” this morning. I told someone I’d circle back with them later. I’m feeling kind of bad about it now that I know it’s really annoying.
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