Moving the HME Industry Forward

Legislative/Advocacy

The Meaning of Advocacy

by Lisa Wells • September 16, 2013

ORLANDO, FL - The word “advocate” is becoming increasingly misunderstood in our industry as the fear and reality of competitive bidding continues. More and more, HME advocate efforts center on driving legislative impact, influencing senators and congressman, and trying to gain audiences with people who have a hand in Competitive Bidding outcomes.

It’s not working as we had hoped. Competitive Bidding is moving forward. So let’s take a minute to look at what the word “advocate” really means, because demonstrating our role as advocates is vital to remaining a part of the communities we serve.

It’s not about you, it’s about them. You heard right.  Being an advocate isn’t about making money for your business or removing roadblocks via Congress that might prevent your business from making money in the future.  We’ve been obsessed with that as an industry and it’s the wrong focus for driving political or policy change.
Being an advocate means standing up for people who can’t.

The sentence above has so many implications. All of them apply to our business climate today as well as to the people we serve. Before I go into how we can truly stand up as an industry, please let me share why I became an advocate myself.

Independence and support literally saves lives. Three years ago, I helped Bert Burns start Life After Spinal Cord Injury as an outreach program sponsored by UroMed – one of the nation’s largest mail order providers for urology supplies. Bert Burns travels the country as an advocate, speaking with newly-injured patients about Life After Spinal Cord Injury.

We were compelled into action by a clinical study published by a rehabilitation nursing journal.  In summary, the study showed that spinal cord injury patients who left rehab with two factors in place were proven to have a significantly longer lifespan than others who did not.

Those life-changing factors are: 
1) A sense of self-independence, and 
2) A network of support. Makes sense, right? Those two factors determine the success and livelihood of able-bodied folks as well.

When Bert and I reviewed the study, all doubt about the work ahead of us disappeared in a split-second, and was replaced with a desire to provide these lifelines to the spinal cord injury community that UroMed serves.

Bert understood this personally, as he is a C6-7 quadriplegic who was paralyzed by a drunk driver 31 years ago. A trained clinician, Bert began his career as a therapist at the Shepherd Center, helping other SCI patients get back into life just like someone else helped him.

Bert started UroMed a few years later with the same goal, trying to help people with disabilities in fighting the insurance battle to get their supplies paid for – so that they could live at home independently and focus on other, better parts of life.

And so LASCI began — quietly and without a lot of money. We had a blog and we had Facebook, and two people who worked daily to reach out to SCI survivors and their families. Bert visited the rehab hospitals and I handled the outreach effort online.

Today, LASCI has nearly 20,000 members in 54 countries worldwide. Their virtual support group is made up of loving friends, families, caregivers and clinicians who all come together online every day to show each other that you can be independent with SCI.  If you’re ever in doubt, the LASCI community is there to convince you otherwise.

The lessons I learned from LASCI and from Bert is what inspired me to become an advocate.  It changed the course of my own career and led me to create a new organization, Wheel:Life, that also supports people who have disabilities.

Talking with HME customers on a daily basis [literally] for more than three years has also led me to the following conclusion: Competitive Bidding won’t be defeated by our industry. I don’t believe Competitive Bidding will be stopped by our Congressional visits. It won’t be stopped single-handedly by HME associations and lobbying groups, who all require a share of your money in order to campaign on your behalf.  But I do believe Competitive Bidding can be blown out of the water by the millions of people in this country who receive ongoing care from the HME industry.

The key to turning the tide lies within the role you play as an advocate. Competitive Bidding is not “your” cause. It’s the cause of every person who has ever passed through your doors as well as every person whose life has been touched by a loved one with a disability.

The problem though is that none of your customers know what the phrase “Competitive Bidding” means or how it will drastically limit their access to care. When the HME industry rallies around educating our communities on this topic, teaching in terms that Joe Lunchbox and Sally Stepmom can understand and relate to, the public outcry will be so loud that Congress will be forced to listen.  And the politicians will listen, as their re-election will depend on it.

Advocate efforts begin from the ground up. Think back to every successful civil or social effort in our nation’s history.  Racial equality, women’s voting rights, you name it. None of them began with a formalized lobbying organization or through a coordinated meeting inside a senator’s office.

These grassroots efforts all began with small groups getting together in homes and community centers – educating one another and lifting others up around them – in small towns and big cities nationwide.  Those small groups of like-minded people quickly turned into feet on the street, delivering the message of the people in a way that could not be ignored.

I’m not suggesting that we, as an industry, should instigate a march or even a protest. We don’t need that to put a stop to Competitive Bidding. We simply need a network of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages that share consistently-phrased educational materials, videos and personal stories aimed directly at the people – i.e. your customers – who have the most to lose by current CMS reform actions.

When we do that, using simple terms and easy examples, the message will spread throughout the world in less than thirty seconds, powered by the greatest tool available today for political awareness and policy change — Social Media.

Help families in your community understand what Competitive Bidding means for their loved ones. Be an advocate. Educate your customers. Expect the associations you financially support to do the same.


All of those non-profit groups who receive your sponsor money have a vested interest in educating their members about Competitive Bidding too.  If your business isn’t here in a few years due to CMS reform, the financial support they receive from your organization, from all of our organizations, is in jeopardy. Get that point across as you help put their Competitive Bidding educational message strategy together from a consumer standpoint.

Together, we’ll find a way into the hearts and homes of our customers with a message they desperately need to hear. That’s the key to creating a groundswell for change — one that’s large enough to cause the government to take a second look at the truly detrimental impact that Competitive Bidding is having on our nation’s health.

Need a hand? Let me know. My organization, Wheel:Life, is more than happy to help you explain Competitive Bidding at a consumer level, and will share those resources to help you spread the word. And Wheel:Life won’t charge you a dime to share the news on your behalf.

Why? Because we’re an advocate – and we’re standing up for people who can’t. You should too.

Join us at the Wheel:Life Community Reception during Medtrade. To help promote consumer advocacy and patient choice, Medtrade is working with the online community Wheel:Life to offer a special program for consumers, caregivers and clinicians in the Orlando metro area.

Community participants will enjoy:
1) A complementary one-day Medtrade Expo Pass.
2) A consumer-focused educational program on locally-available products and health services.
3) Meet-and-greet reception with complimentary food, beverages and fun!

During the Wheel:Life educational program at Medtrade, notable disability advocates and wheelchair users will take the stage to answer consumer and clinical questions through a moderated speaker panel. Learn how you can be part of this invitation-only event here. Download Lisa’s book, Get Social: How to Use Social Media for Healthcare Marketing, on Amazon.com.

See more by clicking here

Lisa Wells is a veteran of online marketing and e-commerce, with nearly 20 years of experience in public relations, marketing communications and web-based product management at medical device, medical supply and health technology companies. As the President of Get Social Consulting, she has advised on the development of numerous online marketing programs and strategic marketing plans for HME providers worldwide. Her book, Get Social: How to Use Social Media for Healthcare Marketing, can be purchased on Amazon.com. Frequently published as a subject-matter-expert in Marketing, Wells was also ranked the #1 speaker for two consecutive years after presenting at the 2010 & 2011 HME News Business Summits. Learn more at www.getsocialconsulting.com.