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December 04, 2023

How to effectively advocate for yourself at the doctor’s office

Health Care Adult Health

Content sponsored by IBC-Native-120423-AdvocateForYourself

Purchased - A Woman Speaking with Her Doctor Drazen Zigic/

Many people who feel comfortable telling a stylist exactly how to cut their hair freeze up when it comes time to voice their expectations and concerns to their doctor. But effectively advocating for yourself when you’re in the doctor’s office is an important skill. It can be key to early diagnosis and treatment, result in more personalized care, and lead to better health outcomes.

Importance of self-advocacy

No one knows more about your body, how you feel, and your medical history than you. That means your doctor needs your input to help you improve or maintain your health, just as your stylist needs your input to give you a haircut you’ll be satisfied with.

Advocating for yourself with your doctor can be especially important if you’re BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), a woman, and/or LGBTQ+, as members of those groups often encounter barriers getting the health care they need.

And perhaps most importantly, for any course of action prescribed by your doctor to work, you must be willing to follow the treatment plan. So, if you’re not fully on board with something your doctor is suggesting, let them know.

Preparing for your visit

When you make an appointment, explain clearly what it’s for. That will help your doctor’s office determine how long it needs to be and how to bill your health insurer. Be sure to also ask how much the appointment will cost. If you’re concerned that your insurer may not cover it, ask the person you speak with if they know.

If you’ll need any special accommodations when you arrive, let the office staff know this when you make the appointment. You should also inform the office if you’re going to bring a friend or family member to provide support or assistance during the visit.

Before you leave for your appointment, make a list of the concerns you want addressed and the questions you’d like to be answered by your doctor. Practice saying them if that will make you feel more comfortable conveying them to your doctor.

You should also gather all the information you’ll need to bring with you to the appointment, including:

• Your medical history (and your family's health history, if relevant)
• A list of your health conditions and the symptoms you’re experiencing
• A list of medications and supplements you’re currently taking
• Your insurance information

Visiting your doctor

On the day of your appointment, plan to arrive at your doctor’s office early so you have plenty of time to give the front desk staff all the information they need. It’s also important to bring something to take notes on so you can later reference everything you spoke about with your doctor.

Once you are in the examination room, take out your list of questions and concerns and tell your doctor what you want to get out of your visit. Mention the most important things first and fully describe any problems you may be experiencing. Don’t be embarrassed; your doctor is on your side and has heard it all. And know your rights. They include the right to see your medical records; the right to have your medical information kept private; and the right to informed consent.

If you don’t completely understand something, ask for clarification until you do. If you have concerns about a diagnosis or treatment recommendation, express them.

When your visit ends, recap your understanding of it to make sure it’s the same as your doctor’s. Make sure you understand what medicines or tests your doctor prescribed or ordered and know how to get them.

If your doctor recommends you see a specialist, get their name and a referral. If you’d like a second opinion, ask your doctor for a recommendation.

After your visit

Review the instructions you received in your office visit summary. If you need anything clarified, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor.

Right after your appointment, schedule any follow-up visits with your doctor and/or appointments with other doctors you were referred to. If you wind up seeing more than one doctor, have them coordinate their care.

If you were prescribed medication or any other treatments during your appointment, make sure you know how to take them. Your pharmacist should be able to answer any questions you may have. If you experience any side effects from a medication or a treatment isn’t working as intended, let your doctor know right away.

Finally, if your visit made you feel uncomfortable and you don’t think future appointments will be a better experience, it’s okay to find a new doctor. If your visit was especially troubling, consider lodging a complaint.

The big picture

Advocating for yourself with your doctor can take some getting used to, but it’s the best way for you to keep on top of your health. And in many cases, your doctor will appreciate you for doing it because it helps them provide you with the best care.

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