The best kind of relationship to have with your doctor or other health care provider is one where your concerns are heard and your needs are met. The idea of having to be your own health advocate might seem a little daunting—doctors are experts, after all, and their role as an authority figure is deeply ingrained in most of us—but you know your body and what you’re experiencing better than anyone, and you also know everything you’ve already tried to alleviate your suffering. Being your own advocate simply means speaking up so that you are heard and being an active participant in your own health care.
Studies have shown that people who are proactive and take an active role in their care actually fare better than those who are passive and don’t speak up for themselves.1
How can you become your own health advocate?
- Ask questions. If you are confused about anything your doctor says or want more clarification about a prescribed medication, side effects, tests or procedures, ask. Your doctor will assume you understand if you don’t speak up.
- Always come prepared. Doctors are incredibly busy and don’t have a lot of time to give each patient, so come with a list of the top three things you want to discuss at each visit. Write them down if you have to.
- Be assertive. You are entitled to expect a certain level of care. If for any reason you are concerned with the care you are getting, speak up, because you have every right to discuss care, treatment and costs with your doctor.
- Research. Don’t overdo it—you can easily get lost down a rabbit hole when you start researching medical information online—but find out enough general information about your conditions to understand the basics. This will help you talk to your doctor about your care and treatment plan.
- Talk—and tell the truth. If you notice a change, be it good or bad, tell your doctor. Never keep anything important to yourself out of fear or embarrassment. Your doctor relies on this kind of information to fill in the blanks and make his or her diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Take note. If you tend to forget details, bring a notepad and pen with you to your appointments. That way you can jot down important information and refer back to the notes at future appointments, if necessary.
If you or a loved one is in the hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto has some suggestions for ensuring you get the very best care during your stay:
- Ask your caregivers for their names and titles and write them down. That way you’re always able to refer to them—and any instructions they’ve given you—if the need arises.
- Ask about the tests and procedures you’re having done and why you’re having them. Continue to ask questions until you fully understand and feel comfortable and confident about the treatment plan.
- Find out when your doctors will be making rounds. This may be the only opportunity you have to speak directly to them, so ensure that a trusted friend or loved one is present to ask additional questions and take down important information and advice.
- Ask about the normal side effects of any surgery or procedure you’re having, and find out what you should do if you experience something out of the ordinary.
- Ask for educational material on your condition, procedures and treatments.
- If you are uncomfortable, concerned or afraid for any reason, call your nurse and ask for help. Never be embarrassed or ashamed to request help—that’s what the staff is there for.
- Make sure to find out if you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your family doctor once you have been discharged.
Think of your doctor as your partner and walk into that exam room as a collaborator in your health care journey. If you feel you need additional support, bring a loved one, trusted friend or caregiver along to your appointments. If you require a hospital stay, consider asking that trusted person if they will accompany you to the hospital and spend as much time as possible there with you. Make sure they are assertive and comfortable asking questions and advocating for you on your behalf.
For more information on the importance of being (and having) a health advocate, visit KevinMD .
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