How to Advocate for Yourself at the Doctor and Get the Healthcare You Need
Getting the care you need can be hard, but there are a few things you can do to up your chances for success.
I’ve been to the doctor a lot over the last year. Like, a lot a lot. I’ve discussed intimate details of the inner workings of my body with many a medical professional and have been poked, prodded, and examined more times than I can count.
Over these last several months, I have learned a lot about what it takes to really advocate for yourself and your care. Nothing can really prepare you for developing chronic health problems, and the crash course I’ve received in the healthcare system is honestly one I would rather have done without.
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The truth is, it can be really hard to get the medical care that you need. While there are many great doctors out there, there are still wide-spread issues of doctors not taking their patients seriously, being dismissive, and generally not providing adequate medical care. You don’t have to search very far to find countless stories of people being dismissed or not believed when going to their doctors for troubling symptoms, only to find out later that they actually did have something wrong with them all along that was just ignored.
But if you are having a health issue, you shouldn’t be scared to go to the doctor out of fear of not getting the treatment you need. Even though the treatment I have received has been a mixed bag, with some truly helpful doctors as well as ones who didn’t seem to really care about me, I still believe it’s worth getting checked out if you are having worrying medical issues.
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While I can’t fix the systemic problems with the healthcare system in a single blog post, I can offer some advice to those of you who may be feeling as though you aren’t getting the care you need for your health concerns. If you are struggling with a chronic pain issue, unexplained and troubling symptoms, or any health concern that requires you to go to the doctor, here are the top things I’ve learned about advocating for yourself and increasing your chances of getting the care that you need and deserve.
Take someone with you
It’s always helpful to take someone you trust with you when you go to the doctor. This will help you to make sure you remember everything that the doctor tells you, as well as providing you with emotional support during the appointment. If you, like me, struggle with standing your ground and sticking up for yourself it can be nice to have someone there who has your back. Also, doctor’s appointments are just inherently stressful, especially if you are trying to get a diagnosis to a complicated medical issue, and having someone with you can be comforting.
Do your research
While Google might not be a great first line of defense when you are having new symptoms, the internet can still be a helpful tool when it comes to finding a solution to your medical puzzle. As much as we would like them to, doctors don’t know everything, so if you have a condition that’s not common or isn’t turning up on their standard tests, some doctors might not even know where to look next. By doing your research you can find ideas for tests to ask for or conditions to explore.
And while some doctors might be resistant to you coming to them with your Google theories, others will accept and even embrace it. In my opinion, it’s better to come in armed with as much information as possible.
A word of caution: It’s important to be careful to not slip from “productive research” into “unproductive Google-induced anxiety spiral of doom.” I can usually tell when I have crossed the line because I can feel my anxiety ticking up and the thoughts of “Oh God I’m never going to get better and I’ll probably DIE” getting out of control, and I know it’s time to stop. Doing enough research to know what questions to ask your doctor or to find others who have experienced what you are going through is helpful. Freaking yourself out and dwelling on the worst-case scenario is not.
Get a second, third, or even fourth opinion
If your needs aren’t being met by your current doctor don’t be afraid to seek out another one. Of course there are times when access to another doctor might be limited depending on your income or where you live, but if it is in your power it’s usually a good idea to get a second opinion, especially if the diagnosis your current doctor has come up with isn’t sitting right or their treatment plan isn’t working.
Also, if you feel like you want or need a specialist’s opinion don’t be afraid to ask for a referral, even if your doctor hasn’t suggested it yet. Primary care doctors only know so much and often a specialist is needed for more complex issues. If your doctor won’t give you a referral, you can sometimes get an appointment without one depending on where you live and your insurance.
It’s always helpful to write down everything that you want to bring up with the doctor before your appointment. Write down any tests you want to ask for, medication side effects that you’re having, treatments you’ve tried or want to try, or any other questions about your condition that you might have. You can make a list on your phone or on paper, whichever works better for you. Just make sure you go over it before you leave your appointment and double-check that you have mentioned everything.
It’s also a good idea to take notes during your appointment, or have the person you bring with take notes for you. They should be writing down anything that has to do with how to take medication you’ve been prescribed, what side effects to look out for, any new treatment plans, when to schedule a follow-up, or just anything in general that you will need to remember after you leave the appointment. Doctor’s appointments can be overwhelming and stressful experiences, which means that it may be even harder for you to remember what happened after you leave so making notes can help you to stay on top of everything.
Unless you are very wealthy and can go to a specialty clinic where you are getting concierge service, your doctor is probably not going to be as on top of your case as you would like. They have a lot of patients and you are only one of them. You will have to be very persistent when it comes to getting test results, medication refills, and making follow-up appointments. You might have to ask questions multiple times before you get an answer.
If you feel like your doctor isn’t taking your case seriously or is being dismissive, you will have to be even more persistent when it comes to getting them to run tests or refer you to specialists. And if you are being persistent and they still aren’t listening, then do what you have to to find a new doctor.
The reality is it can be really difficult to get the medical care that you need, but if you’re persistent, educate yourself, and learn how to be your own advocate you will be more likely to get the answers and care that you deserve. While I know it can be easy to feel embarrassed or awkward when it comes to being persistent and standing up for yourself at the doctor, it’s important to push through those feelings and do what you have to do anyway. It’s your life and health, and you deserve to have it taken seriously.
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and the occasional poem. She also writes articles on travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says. Visit her blog, A Passport And A Pencil.