CULLMAN, Ala. – After working in health care for more than a decade, Cullman County resident Jeff Byars thought he had a firm grasp of the system when his daughter Claire was diagnosed with cancer at 7 months old. He was shocked to find out how difficult it was to navigate, describing himself as “lost.” Now, he is a board-certified patient advocate and launching his new private patient advocacy service, Sun Back Moon, LLC.
Byars’ daughter Claire would mix up the words when told how she was loved from the sun to the moon and back. Instead, she would simply say, “Sun back moon” to convey the sentiment. Now, her sweet words are the name of Byars’ new patient advocacy service.
“There’s a lot that a patient advocate can do,” said Byars. “This is a service that’s been around for many, many years, but it just hasn’t been as prevalent here in the South. There’s only a few of us in the state of Alabama that are board-certified patient advocates.”
Byars said he realized that as lost as he was during his daughter’s illness, people without a background in the medical field had to need help.
“It’s a broad spectrum of who all this can benefit. Whether it be for an individual person who just needs some assistance helping guide them through a complex medical situation or a family that has a loved one with a complex medical situation and they might not be able to pull away from work every time to go to the doctor with them. That is something I can provide,” he explained. “I do a lot of coordination of care between the client’s care team and all of their specialists. That’s one of the things we learned with my daughter: when you get into something that is really complex and you get outside the scope of just going to your primary care physician for an annual checkup, you can start pulling a lot of different physicians and a lot of different procedures and tests into play. Trying to coordinate all that can be tiresome at best and very difficult to do.”
Insurance navigation is another service Sun Back Moon will offer.
Byars said, “A lot of times bills from various things, whether it’s for a surgery, imaging or a visit with the doctor, you start getting bills in. ‘Do I owe this or do I not owe this?’ because sometimes they will cross paths and send you a bill before insurance settles up with it. Trying to sort through that, I can help you with that.”
Additionally, Sun Back Moon will assist patients with finding second (or more) opinions
“Many times when you are dealing with that yourself or for a family member, oftentimes, you don’t have the time to take away from them to do the research and find out where’s the place to be for this particular illness,” said Byars, who explained that often people won’t seek out a second, or more, opinions.
In his daughter’s case, he said, “It was not the first, second, third, fourth or fifth opinion that was correct. It was the sixth opinion that was correct. Number six was the winner and it changed her complete outcome totally and I’m not even convinced she would be with us today if we didn’t get that correct diagnosis.”
Some hospitals have begun offering patient advocates, but Byars stressed he is an independent patient advocate focused on doing what is best for his clients.
“I am there to make sure they can get the best care that they can get, whatever that entails,” he said.” For example, sometimes you may have to fire a doctor. That’s one thing people don’t typically do. They think, ‘Oh, this is my doctor and I have to do what he says.’ They practice medicine. They don’t always have the best opinion and they don’t always have the right opinion. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t and sometimes there are personality conflicts. You may fit well with another provider. It’s amazing to me. People will spend more time researching a microwave oven and figuring out what to buy than they do health care. That’s something I can help with.”
Byars said he can also manage GoFundMe accounts or other contribution accounts for individuals or families receiving donations to help with costs.
“I can tell you first hand from that,” he recalled. “We had an account set up for my daughter by a friend of a friend. He supposedly had a lot of connections and was going to help get us some money. He is sitting in prison in Oregon right now for wire fraud and money laundering…I can help take that burden and worry off the family.”
Other services Byars will offer include nursing home negotiations, providing consultant services for providers focusing on the impact to their patients and serving as a mediator between physicians and patients.
Byars’ services are not limited to those receiving care locally. He has advocated and will continue to advocate for patients who are receiving care outside of the Cullman area.
Byars is anticipating having the Sun Back Moon, LLC website (https://sunbackmoon.com) up in the next couple of weeks, but for now, anyone interested in his services can send an email to email@example.com.
Byars is board-certified patient advocate through the national Patient Advocate Certification Board and a member of the Alliance for Professional Health Advocates.
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