Finding proper healthcare can be a nightmare for some of us. Personally, I’ve spent years in and out of doctor’s offices, trying to find the answers to my health problems. It doesn’t help that going to see a doctor can feel like being interrogated and accused of a crime.
The best thing you can do for your health is to be an active participant in it — i.e., self-advocating. Put simply, it means to communicate your thoughts and questions fully to your healthcare professional and to insist that they listen.
Whether you have a disability, are plus-sized, or feel like there is a language barrier between you and your physicians, these tips might be useful in bridging the gap.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Healthcare settings can be intimidating. Whether you’re in a bustling emergency room or in a calmer, more private setting, it can sometimes feel like you have to go along with whatever the doctor says. But you have the right to be fully informed about your health. If you don’t understand what a healthcare professional is telling you, ask them to clarify. If you’re concerned that they’re forgetting something or dismissing a symptom of yours, ask about it.
Many people (including myself) spend years trying to get proper diagnoses and treatment. And while a lot of the time you can feel rushed or small in situations like these, your inquiries are vital to you having a full understanding of your health. If you still feel intimidated or nervous about vocalizing your concerns, the next tip can help get it done.
2. Make a list of your health concerns.
Right at the beginning of a visit, I let my doctor know about my list of talking points. It doesn’t take too long to put together. I usually keep mine in an app for note-taking and put together my thoughts on the ride to the appointment.
Just a simple list of your symptoms and how they’re affecting you should be good. Your physician will usually give you an opportunity to air these thoughts at the beginning of a visit. However, it’s not uncommon to be asked about why you’ve come in today, and then rushed through the process. Which is why sometimes, it’s best not to go alone.
3. Bring an advocate to help you out.
This isn’t always necessary, but it is 100% always an option that is available to you. I’ve had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) since my teen years. When a friend of mine was struggling to get a diagnosis from her doctor for her own case, she asked me to come along to her visit for support. It turned out to be exactly what she needed to get her doctor to listen to her.
If you feel like you might get overrun by the healthcare provider or simply don’t feel comfortable with the communication, a friend or family member might be helpful in expressing your concerns and not allowing the physician to drown them out.
4. Remember that you know your own body best.
Yes, your doctor has training in their field. But no one knows your body or mind like you do.
The intimate knowledge of what does and does not feel right to you is uniquely your own. There can be a lot of pressure to accept what we’re told as fact. But the truth is that everybody is different. What works for others may not work for you. And while it’s important to give treatments and medications time to do their job, you still have the right to say, “This isn’t working for me.” Sometimes that inner narrative tells us more than we realize. If you don’t feel good, it’s your physician’s job to listen. Plain and simple.
We get fed the idea that the doctor always knows best. And while they are trained professionals, their job is to help you and to invest in your health. No aspect of your identity disqualifies you from receiving the best care possible. Even though communicating with healthcare professionals can be daunting or even feel impossible, you are entitled to thorough treatment. Your voice matters.