Do you find yourself nervous or confused during doctor visits? Do those feelings leave you tongue-tied and unsure what to ask? You’re not alone.
What is self-advocacy?
Self-advocacy in healthcare is a set of behaviors to help you get your needs met.1 This can mean speaking up about your symptoms, voicing your concerns and asking questions. It might include asking for alternatives to a treatment or procedure, asking for a more detailed explanation about your treatment plan or having your doctor summarize what was covered so you better understand.
Why does self-advocacy matter?
People who self-advocate make proactive, personally meaningful decisions, effectively communicate with their doctors and gain strength through connection to others.1 This is important. Being a self-advocate doesn’t mean going to your doctor and saying, “This is what’s wrong with me. I need X prescription.” It’s about knowing and listening to your body, symptoms and family and medical history—and clearly communicating all of it. That way you and your doctor can work together to come up with the best treatment plan.
Remember, you and your doctor are a team. You both have the same goal: helping you feel better.
How to be a self-advocate to get the most out of your healthcare
Here are 10 steps you can take to start becoming a better self-advocate so you can take a more active role to get the care you need and deserve.
Find a doctor you connect with
The first step is simple: Find a doctor you like and can count on. We know this seems easy, but many Americans don’t have a primary care provider2—meaning they don’t have someone they can consistently go to when things come up.
Establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor helps you build mutual trust and respect to feel more confident in your care. It also will allow you to feel more comfortable speaking up and asking questions, since you have a relationship.
Listen to your body
You know your own body better than anybody. If something seems off to you, it probably is. Self-advocacy works best when you trust your instincts and ask for help.
Explain your concern when you schedule your visit
Based on what you say your concerns are, you’ll be scheduled a certain amount of time with your doctor. So, it’s important to tell the scheduler what exactly is going on, so they can make sure you have enough time to address your needs.
Arrive early to your visit
While arriving early isn’t what makes you a good self-advocate, it’s the mindset behind it that does. You’ll have a chance to relax and collect your thoughts before talking with your doctor. This makes for a confident and smooth conversation.
Bring a list of questions
Before your appointment, think of any possible questions that you might have and write them down—your notes app on your phone is an easy place to jot down your thoughts. During your visit, you can even show your doctor your list and go through it together to make sure you get all your answers.
And if anything comes up during your visit that you’re not sure about—don’t be afraid to ask. Your doctor is there to help you.
If you feel you’re not getting an answer or a concern hasn’t been addressed, bring it up. Disagreeing can be uncomfortable, but remember your care is for you. You have a say in your treatment plan and goals, and if you don’t agree, your doctor can help you find different options that align with what you need.
Write things down during your appointment. Maybe you want to jot down medications or next steps. This makes it easy for you to recall what you discussed so you can be more actively involved in your care.
Confirm next steps
At the end of your visit, take a minute to go over what your doctor talked about and what you understand the next steps are. This helps make sure you and your doctor are on the same page.
Get a second opinion
You don’t need a specific reason to get a second opinion. Second opinions from specialists are simple ways to advocate for your health, if you feel it’s necessary.3
If you’re looking for expert guidance, Teladoc Health can help. With our Expert Medical Opinion you can get advice on medical questions, an in-depth review of a diagnosis or condition and help choosing a treatment option or finding a specialist in your area.
Know when it’s time to look for a new doctor
Not every doctor is a perfect match—and that’s okay. If you’ve expressed yourself clearly and still are left feeling rushed and unheard, and have more questions than answers, then it may be time to move on.
Speaking up and self-advocating during doctor appointments can be tough. But speaking up for yourself goes a long way in making your healthcare experience meaningful and getting the care you deserve.
Published on May 30, 2023