Using Patient Advocacy Ties to Bolster Funding Efforts, Community Initiatives

Bridging the gap with the right patient advocacy organizations is key to gaining support from influential patient groups, legislators and medical funding sources. Extending this olive branch is best done in the early stages of a campaign when patient advocacy ideas can be seriously considered and folded into a plan's strategy. "You can't look for a rubber stamp [from patient advocacy groups] late in the campaign process; these groups want to work from a common ground," says Kym White, managing director of Ogilvy & Mather's healthcare practice in New York. For hospitals, that common ground is easier to establish than for any other players in the industry - such as pharmaceuticals, biotech companies and managed care plans -because they have a more personal relationship with the community. With an eye toward a long-term relationship, successful patient group affiliations can result in better access to: disease and treatment education;therapy information;reimbursement;state-of-the-art care; andclinical trials. Although these partnerships won't always be warm and fuzzy, they are a vital component to winning mind share among key healthcare decisionmakers, says White, who has developed relationships with numerous AIDS/HIV and cancer advocacy groups on behalf of pharmaceutical companies like Merck, Novartis and Glaxo-Wellcome. In this article, HPRMN will highlight how hospitals can tap into exciting patient advocacy opportunities in the areas of medical research funding, indigent care reimbursement and organ donation. Congressional Research Support Medical research is one of the hottest partnering opportunities for hospitals. With managed care squeezing funding resources - only 3 percent of the $1 trillion national healthcare budget goes to medical research - academic hospitals in particular can benefit from developing ties with national volunteer medical research organizations. With the goal of raising national awareness of medical research, Research America, a non-profit volunteer advocacy alliance of 350 businesses and healthcare organizations, is a key vehicle for hospitals to gain access to public opinion polls, research outreach initiatives and focus groups. Its latest campaign, the "435 Project," is pursuing congressional support in 435 districts for community-based research support. Research America is targeting hospitals to launch local advocacy programs over the next several years. So far the initiative has received support from 30 congressional districts in 14 states, according to Ray Merenstein, VP of programs for Research America. The campaign's goal is to double national medical research funding to 6 percent. Its Web site,, offers additional information. Recovering Bad Debt Indigent care reimbursement is another critical area where hospitals should develop patient advocacy relationships. More than 37 million Americans lack health insurance, creating a shortfall of $20 billion in bad debt for hospitals. Chamberlin Edmonds (CE), an Atlanta-based company, serves as a pivotal liaison between indigent patients and federal benefit programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Supplemental Security Income. Working on-site at more than 100 non-profit hospitals, the company's staff of registered nurses, social workers and other healthcare professionals expedites the often cumbersome process of helping patients complete applications for medical benefits. Headed by Judy Starkey, CE's chairman, the organization educates non-profit hospitals on how to: train staff on recouping state and federal funds; anddetermine if a service like CE is necessary on-site and what the hospital can do on its own to get reimbursement. If CE is successful at recovering payment for indigent patients, it receives a portion of the debt it recovers. This fee is determined by the amount of patient referrals and reimbursement the hospital is entitled to. If CE is unsuccessful at recouping federal or state funds, the hospital pays nothing for its services. CE has offices in Charlotte, N.C., Albany, Ga., Atlanta, Ashland, Ky., and Columbia, S.C. It is looking to double the number of hospitals it serves to 200. (Research America, Ray Merenstein, 703/739-2577, ext. 11; Ogilvy & Mather, Kym White, 212/686-2744; Chamberlin Edmonds, Judy Starkey, 404/634-5196, ext. 151) Fighting Government Changes To Organ Allocation Recent congressional hearings on organ donation allocation struck an angry chord at the LifeGift Organ Donation Center in Texas and the 3,000 transplant recipients waiting for organ donations it represents. Looking to block the Department of Health and Human Services' latest move to overhaul the distribution of organs from a regional to national system, LifeGift is relying on its strong hospital ties for government relations and media relations expertise, says Kim Davis, LifeGift's regional director. The HHS initiative is intended to improve the distribution of organs nationwide. With the muscle of more than 170 hospitals in the state, the organization staged two simultaneous rallies in Houston and Fort Worth last month, producing signed petitions by more than 4,500 supporters. The goal of the initiative is to pool support from hospitals, other patient groups and transplant recipients to raise awareness on the importance of organ donation and halt the organ allocation ruling from being implemented on Oct. 1, 1998. Using a multi-level strategy in developing industry relationships, LifeGift targets upper management, PR professionals and board members for early involvement in its campaign initiatives. Because this issue is so time-sensitive, LifeGift had to move faster in establishing the role hospitals should play and coordinating PR initiatives. So far, the campaign has resulted in "facts and figures" inserts in the Houston Chronicle, published stories in hospital newsletters and rallying support from healthcare professionals at hospitals. "When you go to legislators, you have to have one voice and one message if you're going to be heard," says Davis. (LifeGift Organ Donation Center, Kim Davis, 713/686-2744)

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