One thing that I am seeing as I read other Chronic Illness blogs is that most people feel like their doctors do not listen. I know that this has been an issue for me and it is why it took 20 years to get a proper diagnosis. For this reason, it is important to learn how be be your own health advocate.
First off, let me say that a doctor should never be a dictator. It should never be a “it’s his way or the highway” situation. In order to have a good patient and doctor relationship, communication is key. If a doctor doesn’t listen to your questions, ideas and issues, the doctor is not the right one for you.
What Does it Mean to be Your Own Health Advocate?
There was a time when no one would dare to question a doctor. Their professional medical opinion was as good as law. Over time, that way of thinking has changed and there is more of a push for patients to take more of an active role in their care. Unfortunately, some doctors didn’t get the memo.
Being your own Health Advocate means taking charge of your medical care. It means being an active participant in your diagnosis and treatment plan. Advocating for yourself means being willing to do research, ask questions and rock the boat if necessary.
Advocating for yourself is much more than looking up your symptoms on the internet. It is much more than going to an appointment with a list of possible diagnoses. It is much more than being prepared to go to battle if things are not going the way you want them to.
4 Ways to be Your Own Health Advocate
Communication is the most important part of being your own advocate. Communicating your ideas and questions without being emotional about them is the number one key to being taken seriously. Be clear and concise when you speak.
This is a two-way street! If a doctor does not take time to listen to your questions or concerns, then let them know you need to say a few things. If a doctor doesn’t want to listen, they are not the doctor for you. Move on!
2. Be Careful of Where You Do Research
You can use Google all you want but never start a sentence with, “I Googled…” when talking to a doctor. Those two words are a doctor’s worst nightmare because everyone Googles. Instead, ask about some research study you read about or about a new medication. They know you Googled but there is no reason to say it!
In light of that, be careful where you do your research. Only use good, sound medical resources for information. Use Google to learn the medical terminology and to educate yourself. The best information will be found in medical journals and research studies. They can be hard to read but you can learn. WebMD and other “watered down” medical sites are not considered valuable resources.
3. Be Persistent and be Kind
If you really want to try a new treatment or make a change in your care plan, ask about it. Do not allow a doctor to just dismiss your ideas without explaining them. You doctor may have a perfectly good reason why they do not think the medication is right for you. If that is the case, you have the right to know what they are and to make that decision with your doctor.
It is also important that while being persistent it is also necessary to always be kind. Going into an appointment ready to fight a war and throwing your weight around will only get you labeled as a difficult patient. No matter what is going on, always be kind to the doctor and the office staff.
4. Make Sure You Understand the Plan
Let’s face it, medical terminology can be hard to understand. If words are said during your appointment that you do not know the meaning of, ask the doctor for clarification. Then ask them to spell it so you can write the word down. Take notes during your appointment and make sure you understand everything before you leave.
Being Your Advocate Comes with Responsibilities
Everyone has probably heard the quote, ” With great power comes great responsibility.” This is true in this situation as well. Being an active part of healthcare team does come with some responsibilities. These are also an important part of being active in your care.
1. Understand your Insurance
Having an understanding about your health insurance coverage is an important part of being your own health advocate. View your health insurance as another part of your health team. It is important to know what your deductibles and maximum out of pocket costs are. It is also valuable to have a basic understanding of what your insurance will and will not cover.
2. Maintain Your Own Records
Do not take up more time from the office staff by needing to request extra copies of your chart. As you get lab or radiology result, file a copy to keep. Make sure to keep all documents in one standard location and try to keep them organized so things are easy to locate.
3. Keep Your Appointments
This may seem like a no-brainer but keeping your appointments and being on time for them is important to your care. If you are constantly late or rescheduling appointments, it is easy for a doctor to think your condition isn’t really important to you.
4. Adhere to Your Treatment Plan
Once you and your doctor have agreed to a treatment plan, it is in your court. If you do not adhere to the plan, a doctor will be very unlikely to take you seriously. If a treatment plan is not working, communicate that to the doctor even if it means making another appointment. Do not stop any treatment plan without discussing your concerns with your doctor. Being a noncompliant patient does not get you better care!
In closing, doing these things will not make things perfect. There is no doctor-patient relationship that will ever be without flaws. But if you take these steps and keep up with your responsibilities, it will be improved greatly.
Do you have any other ideas on how to be your own health advocate?
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- Chronic Illness Spotlight: Crohn’s Disease
Patient Advocacy Books: