Advocating for yourself at the doctor’s office takes some planning and practice. There are tips you can follow before, during, and after an appointment to help you get the care you need and deserve.
Getting your healthcare needs met can be challenging. If you have ongoing symptoms, chronic pain, or just know that something isn’t quite right, you may have had many frustrating trips to the doctor’s office.
If you’re Black, identify as female, or are part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, there can be additional barriers to getting the right care for you.
In 2021, researchers performed a survey involving Black people living in California. Results showed that almost 1 in 3 were treated unfairly in the medical system due to the color of their skin. This number was even higher among Black people who also had a disability or identified as LGBTQIA+.
Many women have had difficult experiences in the healthcare system. Interviews from 2021 explored some of the barriers women faced when seeking healthcare. The results showed that
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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. Advocating for yourself can help your healthcare professional understand your needs and expectations.
You deserve to get the right care for you in the medical system. 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. There are tips you can follow before, during, and after a medical appointment. Here are some tips to make the most of the visits with your doctor.
When you call the office to book, let the receptionist know what you want to discuss. You don’t need to share your whole story, but giving some details ahead of time can ensure the appointment length is appropriate.
If you deal with pain or fatigue, try to book a time of the day when you might be in better shape. If you can, consider booking your appointment earlier in the day. Your healthcare professional may feel more relaxed and better able to listen to your needs.
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 explaining that again?” or “No. That’s not quite right. It’s more like this…”
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 if you feel frustrated or worried. They can also be another set of ears and take notes for you.
Let your support person know how they can help. Make sure they know whether you prefer they jump in with details, listen quietly, or take notes.
Get ready for your appointment by writing down your questions and concerns. Many people may find it hard to remember everything they want to say 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.
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. People get second opinions all the time. You won’t be the first person to ask for one.
Many doctors do it, too. They 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.
Understanding your care plan is a big part of being your own advocate. Asking questions is a great way to learn more. Consider writing down questions ahead of time and bringing the list to your appointment. 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.
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’ll 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.
If you have a diagnosis, it can be helpful to keep learning about it. You don’t need to know everything about your health condition.
You wouldn’t be asking for help if you had all the answers. Keep up to date on the latest research and treatments if you can. Knowing about your condition can empower you to be an active decision-maker in your care plan.
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.
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 if you have a chronic condition. But you’re worthy of getting great care. Self-advocacy is speaking up and taking action to meet your needs. There are many tips you can follow to be your own advocate.