4 Ways to be a Self-Advocate During Doctor Visits
Most people have to practice making the best decisions for themselves - it can be hard say no, even when it’s best for you. Self-advocating, especially with a doctor, can be just as difficult. Nervousness sets in or we worry that we will embarrass ourselves so we often don’t communicate all of our symptoms or speak up for ourselves.
So what is self-advocacy and what does it look like? Self-Advocating means:
Asking for what you need and want
Sharing your thoughts and feelings - even when you are unsure or afraid
Knowing your rights and speaking up for your rights
Making choices and decisions that affect your life and taking responsibility for those choices
To become a better self-advocate, we listed some simple steps to get you ready for your next visit to the doctor.
The Perfect Match
Find a doctor that you like and feel comfortable to be open with about your health issues and concerns. If you go to a doctor and you’re not completely happy with the service or outcome, look for a new doctor. The process can be annoying but it will be worth it in the long run.
Some insurance plans, can make it harder to “shop” around for a new doctor but ask for referrals from friends and coworkers. And just like anything else, most doctors have ratings online. Reading the reviews before making a choice about your doctor can also be helpful. Remember, your doctor is working for you so make sure you like the service you’re paying for.
Prepare for Visits
Being anxious around your doctor is pretty normal - only about 3% of the population actually have a legitimate phobia. However, the anxiety you may feel is real and often comes from the fear of the unknown rather than the doctor him(her)self. These feelings are usually why we don’t self-advocate.
Think about it - the moment there is an ache or pain or something unusual, we usually think of the worst possibilities. We go to the internet, look for causes and our imaginations run wild. The fear of getting “bad news” is typically why we experience anxiety.
To help with this, write down exactly what you’re feeling, including locations, time of day, things that make your symptoms worse and things that make it better. This can help with the conversation and ease some of the fear.
Get comfortable with asking questions, even if they sound silly to you. When something changes in your life, especially a health condition, it’s normal to have lots of questions. Ask those questions and ask even more questions to make sure you understand. It’s not okay to leave the doctor’s office or the hospital without a plan that you are able to understand and put into action.
Remembering everything you want to ask can be tricky. Before your visit, create a list of questions (medications, conditions, alternatives, programs, referrals, etc.) that you want to ask. This can help you get the information you need to make informed decisions. Bringing your phone or notepad to write down important information may be helpful for things you may forget.
Remember, doctors are people too. Don’t let that scare you or feel shame if you don’t understand what is being said. Ask!
Become a Team
You and your doctor should be a team. Be honest with yourself and your doctor about what you need and want when it comes to your body and your health. Your doctor won’t know everything (if he does something is wrong my friends) and the more information you can provide, the better he/she can help you make better choices.
If something doesn’t feel like it can be included into your lifestyle, let your doctor know so he/she can provide alternative options. There are always choices.
And don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if you do not agree with the outcome. Ask for a referral but never sit in uncertainty or follow medical advice blindly.
Bottom line: No one knows your body better than you so don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Being your own best champion is a skill and takes some practice…but don’t worry, you got this!