Sometimes seeking medical care for yourself or a loved one can feel overwhelming. There are many caring, wonderful medical professionals out there, but medicine has also become a big business and experiences can often seem more transactional than personal. It’s so important to be prepared to be a health advocate for yourself and those you love. Being a health advocate means taking charge of your and your loved ones’ wellness. The world of medicine may be intimidating, but armed with the tools to advocate for yourself, you are guaranteed to feel more empowered. Here are some simple ways to start.
Start with the Appointment
Think about what you want from your appointment. Do you need a general wellness check or is there a specific problem you want to talk about? Which medical professional is the right one to see? Sit down and write out why you’re going to visit your healthcare professional. What symptoms are you having? Any pain? Where is it? What, if anything, have you done to treat it? Most importantly, what are you willing to do to improve your health? The more information you give your caregiver, the more easily he/she will be able to figure out what the issue is and what treatment options there may be.
The more preparation you do prior to your visit with a Doctor, Nurse Practitioner, PA or other medical professional, the better. While you may not always feel well enough to do a Google search or read in your medical book, it can pay off in the long run, especially if you have a chronic condition or previously diagnosed illness. Understanding as much as possible about your specific illness or problem can make the visit go more smoothly and you will feel more confident in answering questions and asking for what you need. You may also want to take the time to understand what your health insurance will pay and what out-of-pocket costs you will incur.
Bring your Questions
You should always feel comfortable asking your medical provider questions! It’s best to make a list of questions prior to the visit, so you will not forget anything. Office visits can go quickly. Healthcare professionals are most often in a hurry and being armed with your questions ensures you will get all the answers you came for. If you ever find your provider is too rushed or unwilling to answer your questions, never be afraid to explore other options by finding someone who will take more time with you.
Keep your Records
Maintaining your own records is easier than ever, now in the digital age. If you’ve ever switched medical providers, or seen a specialist, keeping your own records will ensure nothing gets lost in the shuffle. In addition, seeing that you’ve taken the time to compile your own medical records shows any medical professional that you are invested in your health. You should also review your medical bills closely. Many medical bills contain errors and the only way to find them is to keep an eagle eye on them and call the billing department if there is something that doesn’t seem correct or that you don’t understand.
Get a Second Opinion
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as many as one in twenty people can be victims of outpatient diagnostic errors and nearly everyone will be misdiagnosed at some point in their lives. Even if you’re comfortable with the diagnosis you’ve received, staying informed is the most important tool you will have. A good provider will welcome confirmation of their diagnosis and would not discourage their patient from learning more. You should get a second opinion if you are not feeling confident about a diagnosis or treatment plan.
Phone a Friend
Don’t be afraid to call for backup if you are feeling overwhelmed. A scary diagnosis, invasive tests, lengthy hospital stays or even a long drive to a clinic can all make us feel scared. Sometimes you are enough of an advocate for yourself and sometimes you need to call in the troops to help advocate for you. Having a person who is well-informed about your special situation will give you an additional resource for questions and answers, as well as provide you with more confidence to advocate for yourself.