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Patient Advocates are Not the Enemy

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, April 5, 2013

Patient advocates have long been a thorn in the side of hospitals and health systems with respect to healthcare access and issues of overcharging the poor. They've done good work. Without them, many of the most egregious examples of hounding poor and sick patients for payment might have gone unnoticed or underreported.

But hospital and health system leaders are in a difficult position as well. Healthcare payment is complex and certainly hospitals deserve compensation for their work, but with rules and regulations so murky, how do you know how much is enough? The labyrinthine flow of money through hospitals and health systems that culminates in an often meager bottom line makes this work difficult as well, and offers plenty of opportunities for obfuscation surrounding where the money is really flowing.

As important: How do you protect yourself and your system from charges that you are taking advantage of people least able to afford care?

First, you could start listening to what some of these groups have to say instead of treating them as enemies. Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta went one step further by hiring one of the dedicated people who has been pushing it and other hospitals in Georgia to do better.

Piedmont hired Holly Lang a year ago as the director of community benefits for the health system. Seven months later, it promoted her to deputy director for a new community benefit initiative called the Georgia Center for Healthier Communities. Partly a lobbying organization on the local and state level, more important, says Lang, is its mission to improve health and healthcare throughout Georgia's communities.

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