How to Be Your Own Health Advocate

Photo: James Palinsad
Photo: James Palinsad

Three months after Gigi was born and for the past 16 months I’ve had some chronic pain. Despite probably 50 doctors’ visits, they haven’t been able to figure out it. I’ve seen various specialists, physical therapists, internists, and pain specialists. I’ve been subjected to countless x-rays and MRIs. I’ve spent nearly six months in physical therapy. Nothing has worked. Some doctors were adamant they had a diagnosis, so I underwent a specific treatment, but still no relief.

Needless to say, after all of these appointments, being poked, prodded, and x-rayed, I finally found a pain specialist who thought beyond the previous diagnoses.

Finally, after literally 16 months, I have SOME relief. It’s not gone, but it’s better. I’m hopeful that this specific doctor will be able to help me fully recover. But all this time and frustration has reminded me how important it is for me to be an advocate for my own health.

If you’re experiencing any health symptoms that are bothering you but you have not been able to get a proper diagnosis, here are my five steps for how to be your own health advocate.

5 Tips for How to Be Your Own Health Advocate

1. Be Prepared

Prior to your appointment, sketch out the major things you hope to cover in the appointment. I usually write a short list of my issues, in order of importance, so I don’t forget. Doctors are stretched for time, so always make sure to have them address your greatest concern first. There have been a couple times where I wanted to talk to them about three or four issues and they got so wrapped up in fixing the first concern that we never made it to the other issues. Whatever you feel is the most urgent or pressing concern is the one you should discuss first. If you feel like your doctor can’t address the issue, you might want to ask for a referral right away to expedite your care.

2. Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If your doctor prescribes a certain kind of medicine or a certain course of treatment and you don’t understand it or don’t agree with the diagnosis, ask for clarification. Your questions are never stupid or unnecessary, so if a doctor makes you feel that way, then he/she probably isn’t the right doctor for you. Your doctor should answer your concerns with care and compassion.

3. Communicate your Concerns

If you are unhappy with your service, let the doctor or office manager know. Since moving to Arizona, I’ve had some issues with getting prescriptions transferred. I’ve also run into billing issues with one specific clinic. These were annoying issues, but I didn’t just let them fester, I took action to speak with the office manager and ensure my concerns were being addressed as efficiently and quickly as possible.

4. Ask for a Second (or third or fourth) Opinion

If you’ve been to several doctors and still don’t have a diagnosis that makes sense or you are still experiencing the same symptoms without any relief, don’t quit. Find another doctor and get more opinions. Don’t give up!

5. Listen to your Body and Don’t Give Up

If you aren’t your number one advocate for your health, no one else will be. You know how your body feels and you know when something isn’t right. If no one is listening to you or you feel like you are spinning your wheels, just keep trying – try another doctor, another office, another specialist. Yes, it can be tiring, time-consuming and expensive to visit so many doctors and specialists, but if you quit, you will only be quitting on yourself and your health. Be an advocate for your health and stand up for what you deserve — good health.

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