Business for a Better World: NShore Patient Advocates
Being a patient advocate isn't just Teri Dreher's business. It's her personal mission.
"I'm not going to retire until I'm pretty sure that everybody in America knows about patient advocacy and they know how to find a patient advocate near them because it's just so wrong that especially seniors in America are falling through the cracks because we live in a country full of ageism. ... That's what gets me up in the morning."
It's why she founded Libertyville-based NShore Patient Advocates in 2011, and then founded the nonprofit seniorsalone.org. It's why she developed an online course to help other nurses enter the patient advocacy field at nurseadvocateentrepreneur.com.
"Patients are experiencing a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction with quality of health care," said Dreher, who has her share of health care horror stories, "and the roles have been changing so much that more and more people are realizing that if you don't have a doctor or nurse in the family, then you really need to have somebody help you because you don't even know what questions to ask sometimes."
Her businesses have been very successful, she said, and very rewarding personally.
For instance, one patient had their insurance company approve of full payment, but the skilled facility the patient entered still sent a bill saying they owed three days of uncovered services.
"So I'll be calling the facility today with proof that it was covered," Dreher said.
She doesn't work on insurance coverage or billing problems often, preferring to help patients find the care they need wherever they need to be. She has a specialist on insurance issues she can refer patients to.
After starting out alone, Dreher, a former ICU nurse, has grown NShore Patient Advocates to six nurses, three care managers and two office staff. She's so busy with private clients calling for help that she thinks the company could grow to 25-30 nurses within a year.
"We're looking for really exceptional nurses that have the personality to be able stand up and ask the right questions, really strong clinical experience and just a real strong heart for patients," Dreher said. "They have to absolutely love people, especially seniors."
Her best pre-pandemic year saw the company bring in revenues of $725,000, but she expects to top $1 million this year.
Dreher said there isn't much competition for her company now, and she hopes to see that change because the need is genuine and growing. In the Chicago area, there are 23 patient advocates, according to gnanow.org.
Most of Dreher's work as CEO of NShore Patient Advocates has been with individuals, but she has worked with business, providing patient advocacy as a benefit when it's needed. It's an area she expects to grow in as she adds more staff.
One business using her services as an employee benefit has a longtime employee whose wife has metastatic breast cancer that is advancing quickly, plus pulmonary fibrosis. Inpatient rehab was not successful.
"We got palliative care in there and got her home as quickly as we can," Dreher said. "She's on a portable ventilator at home and we're providing a lot of emotional support and hopefully she'll be going on hospice pretty soon. But we also got a pulmonary fibrosis expert from Northwestern to do an emergency second opinion so the family will be able to know in their heart that there's nothing else that they can do."
The family has been very pleased with the help Dreher's company has provided, she said, and is very grateful to the employer for including patient advocacy in their employee benefits package.
Dreher would like to do more of this but a lot of the larger companies choose a cheaper form of service, wanting someone who is available only by phone.
"And we're very hands on," she said. "We feel that the magic between a nurse and patient is partly our experience and our assessment and also our heart for patients. We see people directly. We're available 24/7 to the them and we are really like having a nurse in the family.
"We like small- to mid-size companies that realize that kind of value," Dreher said. "And they don't call us that often, but when they do, they find that it's extremely valuable and the employees just are so grateful to that company that they would do something this extravagantly generous to help them in their time of need.
"It's really rewarding to be able to do that."
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