By Barby Ingle, Columnist
When it comes to advocating for the pain community, there are many roles to fill and many ways to go about doing it. There are patient advocates, legislative activists, social media activists and self-advocates.
I do a little of each and see that the most common mistake in activism is when patients join an organization without fully understanding the legislative process, how long it takes, and that there’s no guarantee that the desired outcome will be reached.
This is a topic I have seen on many of the upcoming pain conference agendas for 2018. I have been asked to speak at a conference about it, and while preparing my talk I realized that patients need more information on what it takes to build a pain organization into a successful change maker in public policy and legislation.
There is a 5-step process that I use to insure that a message is heard, supported, and goes from being an idea to actual legislation at the federal or state level. It takes a never-give-up attitude, with a big influx of time, effort, follow-up and social media support.
First, when crafting legislation to improve patient care or some other goal, you need to start by creating an implementation plan. This plan should outline a budget, strategies, leadership responsibility and timelines for goals to be met.
Second, the team leader must clarify the roles of the advocacy team and communicate that role to the rest of the leadership team, staff and volunteers. There are many personalities and challenges that will come up, so having the right people in place working together is very important.
Third, confirm that all team leaders express support for the initiative in meetings with legislators and their staffs. Allow additional time for the implementation of each step. Things tend to take longer than they should when working with teams and with government officials. The leadership should organize volunteers, create training resources, reach out to the media (and have patient stories ready for them), and provide effective speakers for hearings and press conferences. Be sure to include healthcare professionals and patients on your team.
Fourth, monitor the progress of the legislation closely. There are usually a lot of “hurry up and wait” situations and it could take years before a bill gets out of committee or comes up for a vote. Sometimes mid-course corrections and negotiations are needed with legislators to gain their support and to keep a bill from dying, especially if a mandate or money is involved.
Fifth and finally, carry out your strategies to achieve your goals. Your leadership team and volunteers should understand the bill and the legislative process, and be using marketing and social media tools to gain public support and awareness about why the legislation is needed. Staying motivated is critical to success. Keep your staff and volunteers involved and committed to making a difference in their own lives and the lives of others.
If you are a chronic pain patient and want to get involved, understand that this type of work takes physical action, but it doesn’t have to be all encompassing. Volunteer with advocacy groups or non-profits that are already working on legislative issues that interest you. See what fits you and volunteer to be a team leader or social media supporter. Share your story and why the bill is important to you, or even testify in person at a legislative hearing.
Be the change agent that we all need in getting proper and timely healthcare for the chronically ill.
Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.
More information about Barby can be found at her website.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.