Speaking up to a medical provider for your healthcare needs can feel a bit intimidating. This can become even more uncomfortable if you feel as though your provider is not “hearing you” or appears to dismiss your concerns. This type of experience can lead to retreating and avoiding contact with a medical provider; however, this can be detrimental to your health.
Your health is important and advocating for your healthcare needs is a great way to demonstrate your concerns to your medical provider in a constructive manner. Advocacy can be done with a few simple actions and can increase your awareness regarding the nature of your presenting problem or symptoms. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Be specific regarding when you experience the symptoms. This includes when the symptoms began or how long you have been experiencing the problem. Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint exactly when it started, so think back to major events or activities that have occurred (a birthday, work event, holiday, etc.) and determine if you were experiencing the symptoms or problem at that time. This also includes noting if the problem or the symptoms are worse at different times of the day, or after specific activities (i.e. after exercises versus after sitting for several hours).
- Clarify how the problem impacts you and your overall functioning. For example, what difficulties, pain, or deficits are you experiencing as a result of these symptoms or problem? Does it interfere with your sleep, your appetite, your ability to concentrate, intimacy with your partner, spending time with your children or friends, productive at work, or simply enjoying down time? Sometimes we may not realize how broadly the symptoms or problem has impacted our lives until we take time to think about this question.
- Describe what interventions you have tried to help alleviate the problem or the symptoms and whether they have been effective. Have you tried pain medication or physical therapy, exercising or stretching, changes in eating habits, or changes in sleeping patterns, etc.? Have you already had imaging, lab work, or an evaluation by a specialist completed? If so, are you able to get these results to your medical provider to incorporate this information into your current assessment? Do you have concerns about these assessments? It is okay to speak up and share your concerns.
- Ask questions. This is your time with your medical provider, so ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand the recommendations or the next steps. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask your provider to explain it again. Also, if you feel your provider may have misunderstood something you said, it is important to clarify with him or her so they accurately capture your perspective.
- It’s okay to do some research. If you want to look up information related to your symptoms or problem, be sure to use reputable websites, such as the websites connected to your provider’s medical group or your insurance provider. If your research suggests a particular course of action, bring up this option with your medical provider. Ask about the pros and cons for this course of action, and what are some alternative options.
Once you settle on a course of action with your provider, confirm what the next steps should be, including when you will need to follow up to see this provider again.
Advocating for yourself can be an empowering experience. It also increases your awareness of your lived experience with a problem or symptoms, so you are better able to discuss them with your provider. Please note these suggestions can also be applied when for you advocate for someone else’s healthcare needs. You deserve great healthcare and it is okay to advocate for it.
Written by Takisha Corbett, Ph.D. Dr. Corbett is a psychologist at Pacific Neurobehavioral Clinic, PC.