"The wise man should consider that health is the greatest of Human blessings"
To Self-Advocate means: To speak for yourself; to defend yourself and make your own decisions; to make your own recommendations; to plead your own cause.
We all know it’s important to see a healthcare provider for regular checkups, or if something feels out of the ordinary. However, appointments with our physicians are typically short in duration, and we often feel rushed and unable to get through everything that needs to be addressed.
Some people also face barriers in getting the treatment they need. feeling discriminated against in healthcare settings for a multitude of reasons, such as their race, ethnicity, gender, age, income, sexual orientation, language, health, or disability status.
Sometimes we need to work extra hard to have our concerns taken seriously.
Here are a few tips to arm yourself with the tools you need to become a self-advocate for your healthcare needs.
Believe In Yourself
You are a unique and valuable person. You are worth the effort it takes to advocate for yourself and protect your rights. You may need to work on raising your self-esteem to start believing in yourself to become your own best advocate.
Find The Right Doctor
If you're able to choose your healthcare provider, try and get a personal recommendation from someone you trust. If you have a specific issue that you’re concerned about, you can ask your general practitioner for a referral to someone who specializes in that topic.
Get Organized And Go Prepared
Make a list of issues and questions you want to cover at the appointment. If you’re seeing your doctor about a specific complaint, note when it started, what you’ve tried already, what makes it better or worse, and any associated symptoms that you’ve been experiencing. This is a great time to start a medical diary!
Seeing a specialist? Before your appointment try to make sure they have access to your recent test results or bring a copy with you. Additionally, it is always a great idea to have the names of any medication you’re on, or bring the medications with you—including supplements and over-the-counter medications.
When you advocate for yourself, it’s important to ensure you’re clear about exactly what you need. The internet is an excellent source of information, but it’s always good to check for online accuracy by looking at several different resources before communicating your findings with a healthcare provider.
Ask Someone To Join You
It can help to have a friend, family member or significant other at the appointment with you. They can give you moral support and vouch for your symptoms. You may also find you feel more confident and are able to assert yourself better when you have support with you. A support person could be invaluable as they are often able to view things in a different light. They may also be better at remembering what the doctor said, especially if you’re being faced with a lot of information.
Arrive 10- 15 minutes before your appointment to give yourself time to sign in and take care of any paperwork that is required. If you arrive late, you may have less time for your appointment, or end up getting rescheduled. Arriving early will help alleviate anxiety and help you to feel more calm and less rushed.
Clearly articulate your goals for the visit and be prepared to give the doctor facts about your symptoms. This will help you get all of the answers you need. Avoid downplaying the severity of your symptoms and be sure to tell your healthcare provider how they are affecting your life. When in doubt, refer to the list of issues that you prepared.
Talk about the most important thing first to be sure you have time for any extra details that may arise. Bear in mind that if you have multiple concerns to address, it may take more than one visit to get the answers.
Remember that we are all unique so what works for one person medically may well not work for another. Don’t be afraid to ask for a change in medication if you aren’t happy with the results or if the side effects are too much for you.
Ask your healthcare provider questions, especially when you don’t understand something they’ve said. If you have thoughts or concerns about your health, or what is triggering your symptoms, let your healthcare provider know, and ask them what they think.
If your doctor gives you a diagnosis, ask them, “Is there any chance it could be something else?” This question can remind your doctor to consider an alternate diagnoses. If you’re prescribed a new medication, ask about any expected side effects or things you need to avoid while taking it (like alcohol, or other medications). Find out when you should contact your doctor if you experience side effects, and what to do if your symptoms are not improving. If you’ve been referred to a specialist, ask when you should expect the specialist’s office to contact you.
Taking notes at your appointment can help you double-check that you’ve understood everything clearly. Is the doctor prescribing you any medications? How should you take them and how often? You can try repeating back the key points of what was discussed during the appointment so they can help fill any gaps in understanding before you leave.
Before You Leave
Ask your provider for copies of any scans or test results. You may need to bring these with you to your next appointment, especially if you’re going to see a specialist or get a second opinion. Don’t forget to book your follow-up appointment if you’re expecting test results that will need to be reviewed. Ask for a double appointment time slot if you feel you will need more time.
After the Visit:
Check In With Yourself
How did you feel at the appointment? If you don’t think it went well, or you felt the healthcare provider didn’t listen to your questions, it’s okay to find another one! Ask friends, family members or colleagues for recommendations.
Always trust yourself. Remember: it’s your body. If something doesn’t feel right, get a second opinion, or take some time to think things over. Don’t feel pressured into rushing into any treatment or procedure that you’re not sure about.
Go Over Your Notes
Make sure you are clear on any medications you need to take, and whether you need to schedule another appointment. If there’s something you don’t understand, phone the doctor’s office to follow up.
If You Have Received A New Diagnosis
Sometimes a diagnosis may be long-awaited, other times it can come as a shock. Take some time to let it sink it. Talk with someone you trust. Always ask for a second opinion if you don’t trust the diagnosis or don’t have a good rapport with your doctor. If it is something serious, then you will be working with this team for the foreseeable future, so you will need to have trust in them.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read Online
Researching online through medical journals and support groups may help you to decide which treatment you prefer, or help you find your way towards a diagnosis if you don’t have one—but not all websites provide trustworthy information. Online forums can make you feel less alone, but they also tend to increase fear and spread a lot of misinformation.
Know You Did Your Best
Doctors are seen by many people as authority figures, and it can be hard to assert your needs to them. Celebrate the actions you’ve taken to assert yourself and your health needs, however small. Always remember, your health is worth fighting for!
Interested in exploring innovative solutions to reaching optimum health? Read more about Marci's experiences in Alternative Health.