Place a sign next to your checkout area to reinforce your message. Include contacts and phone numbers for members of Congress, contacts for insurance disputes and important advocacy groups, such as the Arthritis Foundation and Simple Tasks Campaign. Consider posting an “Advocacy Issue of the Month” on the sign or board to focus on for patient efforts.
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Place advocacy forms on your patient portal. Do you have downloadable patient history, insurance, HIPAA policy and other administrative forms available on your practice portal? Consider adding advocacy forms, drafts of letters for patients to send about important issues, etc. This will take extra time to keep current, but if you make it easy for patients to advocate (e.g., by copying your draft letter) then more patients will participate.
If you are really enthusiastic, consider creating a blog, electronic newsletter or e-mail alerts. Your information technology consultant can help set up relatively inexpensive programs that all but automate the process for doing this. The easiest way to do this is to tie it to your website or portal.
Keep the Ball Rolling
After you set the wheels in motion, step back and watch the advocacy machine roll, but only for a week or two. Grassroots advocacy requires continuous energy to be successful. We found that reinforcing the advocacy message at every staff meeting prevents the program from becoming mundane and infuses fresh enthusiasm into the staff.
When patients return for a visit after signing up to become advocates, ask what they feel is the most important current issue for them. This concurrently reinforces to them your opinion that their advocacy is important and valuable, and also gives you a feel for the issues that are important your patients.
Also, schedule time to periodically assess your process and efforts. Change messages on your phones or websites, post current issues on your advocacy sign, and revise your handouts; avoid giving patients a feeling that this advocacy stuff has gone stale. Avoid spending energy on portions of your program that seem to offer little in return.
Colleagues, we all intuitively understand the value and importance of advocacy. In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to generate a strong and united voice to keep bureaucracy from overwhelming our ability to help our patients. Enrolling patients and helping them advocate should be a critical part of our duty as rheumatologists. Don’t delay, begin today!
Christopher D. Adams is chief of rheumatology for the East Alabama Rheumatology Center in Auburn/Opelika. His experience includes military medical practice, health delivery logistics and planning for the military, clinical faculty at several medical schools, conducting clinical research and serving as a liaison for dialogues between the Alabama Society for the Rheumatic Diseases and managed care, as well as government entities.