It’s important to advocate for your best interests in all areas of life, but especially when it comes to your health.
You have agency over your body and know it better than anyone else, but doctors and specialists are trained to interpret how you’re feeling into an effective treatment. Here’s how to make sure that you have the confidence to speak up and receive the care you need and deserve.
What self-advocacy is and why it’s important
Self-advocacy is just like it sounds; it’s the practice of vouching for yourself. In a medical setting, this means that you communicate your symptoms, questions, concerns, and objections to any treatments to receive high-quality care. In recent years, research has shown that people are more satisfied with their overall health when they advocate for themselves. Your confidence to communicate your wants and needs in a medical setting can help you be better equipped in your professional and personal life too.
1.Find the best provider.
First and foremost, find a healthcare provider that you feel comfortable around. You can do this by searching the internet for their credentials, research publications, and reviews. When you feel you’ve found a good fit, ask to talk to them one on one as a chance to get to know them and ask questions. You may even consider discussing various health scenarios and asking them what their first choice for treatment is. Different providers practice different types of medicine. For example, there are approaches that are curative, palliative, and preventative, and they might favor use of either Western or Eastern medicine.
2. Prepare and arrive early.
Plan your appointments during a time that you know you won’t feel rushed or stressed. If you work full-time and have children, five o’clock might not be an optimal time—rush hour traffic from work and children’s afterschool activities could distract you from devoting your attention fully to your healthcare. Instead, utilize weekend hours or evening hours that allow you to spend time preparing notes of your symptoms, questions, and concerns. Arrive early to your appointment to ensure there are no insurance or billing issues. Take a moment in the waiting room to calm nerves, and drink water to clear your throat so you can speak clearly with the provider.
3. Communicate all questions and concerns.
Communication is key to developing a healthy relationship with your doctor. The best way to communicate is to prepare notes ahead of time. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, misspeak, or neglect to remember important points in the heat of the moment during an appointment. Remember to take a deep breath, refer to your notes, and speak confidently. Doctors are trained to address this discourse politely and won’t judge what you’re saying. In fact, they invite it. Their oath as medical professionals is to put patient care first, and it helps them to understand how to best treat you when you speak about it. There is no such thing as a “dumb question.” It’s better to ask your provider directly during an appointment rather than wait and consult the internet, or even worse, sit and ruminate over it silently. And don’t feel rushed! Take your time. This appointment is your time, so don’t worry about taking up their time with conversation.
4. Respectfully disagree.
Now that you’ve addressed everything from your end, the provider may give answers that you aren’t satisfied with. It’s important to pause and ask yourself what you don’t like about the answer they gave. Start with “I need clarification” or “I don’t feel comfortable with” to keep composure and give them guidance on how you’re feeling. You might be confused or uncomfortable, which is OK. Whether it’s about side effects or costs of treatment, it’s best to ask questions right away. Your doctor may be able to find a better brand of a medicine or adjust a timeline of treatment to suit you better. If you’re still feeling dissatisfied, ask to consult another provider in the practice. They should be more than happy to invite another doctor in to give a second opinion. Another expert’s opinions can feel reassuring or bring another option to light.
5. Confirm the next steps and persist.
At the conclusion of the appointment, confirm the next steps you both need to take. Confirm the pharmacy location, next appointment date and time, and any other specialists you need to speak to. Ask them what the best way to reach them is in case of an emergency or questions. On the flip side, repeat to your doctor what you need them to follow up on or do before you leave or before the next appointment. For example, “to confirm, I want you to call the pharmacy and ask about generic drug availability; can you follow up with me when you complete that step?” Follow up can make a world of difference in reducing your healthcare-related stress. It’s nice to know that you can count on a follow-up call or message soon to know they haven’t forgotten anything. Be sure to give them an appropriate timeline, and if you don’t hear back by then, set a reminder on your phone to give them a call. By doing so, both you and your doctor are taking accountability in your relationship.
Your relationship with your doctor is a two-way street, where in which you are both experts; you are the expert of your own mind and body, and they are the expert of treatment options. By practicing self-advocacy, you can reap the benefits of high-quality care.