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Empowering Patients: Advocating With Medical Professionals

There was a time when people went to the doctor and did what they were told without questioning the diagnosis or treatment plan. Things are different today! There are more alternatives available and more opportunities to be an active partner in your own health care. 


It can be extra challenging if you are a person of color, have a disability, identify as female, are in a larger body or are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Everyone deserves appropriate and professional healthcare and knowing how to advocate for yourself can ensure you get it.


Advocating for yourself means taking action to get your needs met. In a healthcare setting, self-advocacy can help you get the time and attention that you need. In addition, advocating for yourself can help your healthcare professional understand your needs and expectations. 


You deserve to get the right care! It’s not your fault if you’re not getting the care you need. It’s also not your job to fix a system that doesn’t always meet your needs. Despite this, you can take action. Here are some suggestions to help:


The Right Medical Provider

Find a provider that is aligned with your personal medical philosophy.  That may be a medical doctor, a naturopath, asian medicine or something in between.  

A great provider will:

  • Let you ask questions

  • Respect your ideas and opinions

  • Continue to ask questions on your behalf

  • Admit with they don’t know or understand something

  • Have a true willingness for your health to improve

  • Be open to working with others on your healthcare team.

Your care is the most important thing. If switching doctors is necessary or even helpful, do it.


Appointments

Explaining to the receptionist what you need from the appointment can help them ensure the appointment length is appropriate. Ask if there are any records that can/should be transferred. 

Ask if medications you are currently taking could play a role in your upcoming appointment. Occasional blood tests are needed and fasting may be useful. Be sure to ask ahead of time in order to not have to make unnecessary return appointments. If you deal with pain or fatigue, try to book a time of day when you are at your best.


Practice what you’ll say

It can be helpful to think about what you want to say and how you’ll say it.  Think about your main concern and how you can share this with your doctor. It might be helpful to practice saying it out loud ahead of time. Having some lines ready in case you feel unheard or misunderstood is also a good idea. Consider something like, “Could I try to explain that again?” or “No. That’s not quite right. It’s more like this…”.


Bring a buddy

If you find appointments overwhelming, you’re not alone. Many people feel that way. Consider bringing a close friend or family  member. Having an extra person can be helpful for many reasons. This person can be a support but can also be another set of ears. Let your support person know how they can help. For example, do you prefer they jump in with details, listen quietly, or take notes. 


Prioritize your questions and concerns

Many people find it hard to remember everything they want to discuss once they’re in an appointment. Keep in mind that you may not address everything in one appointment. It’s a good idea to prioritize what you want to talk about to make the best use of your time. 


Consider getting a second opinion

If you feel unsure or uncomfortable with the advice from your doctor, you have the right to get a second opinion. You can get a second opinion even if you’re just curious about other ideas or approaches. Doctors often appreciate talking about more complicated cases with a colleague. Ask your doctor whether they can refer you for another opinion or if there’s someone your doctor could discuss your case with. 


Ask lots of questions

Understanding your care plan is a big part of being your own advocate. Explaining your treatment with a trusted friend or family member can help flush out holes in your understanding and bring up more questions. Consider writing down questions ahead of time and bringing them to your appointment. Even if they seem irrelevant, they may be useful. If you feel unsure about something your doctor said, ask them to clarify it. Ask about other ideas or what other people in similar situations have done. If you start a new medication, make sure to understand exactly how to take it and how to know whether it’s working. Ask if tests and procedures are covered by insurance and if not, how much it will cost. Don't let the doctor rush you. This is your time, so use it as you need.


Find support

A support group can be a great way to connect with others if you have specific health conditions. Having a network of people may help you access better care. Within the group, there will be many experiences with different healthcare professionals. People within the group can make recommendations for referrals. They can also share any strategies that they find helpful. Support groups can also remind you that you’re not alone in this challenging journey to get the right care for you.


Learn as much as you can

If you have a diagnosis, it can be helpful to keep learning about it. Keep up to date on the latest research and treatment if you can. You won’t know everything but having a basic knowledge about your condition can empower you to be an active decision-maker in your care plan. 


Keep detailed records

Keeping records of your medical history allows you to track your health journey. It can be impossible to keep all those details in your head. Take notes about who you’ve met with, their recommendations, what tests you’ve had, and the medications you’ve taken.

Bring these records to your medical appointments. They’ll allow your healthcare professional to learn more about your health history and what you’ve already done. If you have ongoing symptoms, consider keeping a symptom journal.


Understand the follow-up plan

Advocating for yourself also involves making sure there’s an ongoing plan for care. Make sure you understand what roles you and your doctor have in the follow-up plan. If you have a new prescription, make sure you understand exactly how to take it and for how long. Knowing what to watch for when starting a new medication is a good idea. If you’re waiting for referrals or testing, find out how long you can expect to wait. Ask if there are symptoms to watch for that might mean you need to contact a doctor sooner.



It can take a lot of work to navigate the healthcare system. It takes extra time and energy, which might already be low. But you’re worthy of getting great care. Self-advocacy is speaking up and taking action to meet your needs, and no one gets to take that right away from you.


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