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How to Advocate for Yourself at the Doctor’s Office

Of course, we know it’s important to see your doctor for regular checkups, or if something seems out of the ordinary. However, for a lot of people, especially women and BIPOC individuals, the doctor's office can be a difficult place.

Many people face barriers in getting the treatment that they need or feeling seen or heard in their appointments. People have reported feeling discriminated against in health care settings for a multitude of reasons, such as their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, income, insurance status, language or accent, weight, and health or disability status.

Self-advocacy is crucial, letting your doctor know that you have a human right to equal treatment and care, is essential when going to the doctor's office. It also means taking an active role in your health which can give you more confidence with the whole experience.

So with that said, here are some tips to help advocate for yourself at your next appointment:

1. Do research ahead of time & educate yourself

  • Research everything, research the doctor, your suspected condition, possible treatment options.

2. Make a list of issues you want to cover at the appointment, and questions you’d like answered

  • I like using the Notes app on my phone and just writing down symptoms I’ve experienced and the date and time i’ve experienced it, along with any other relevant info.

3. Ask someone to come with you

  • You may feel much more comfortable having someone around who can help advocate for you. You have the right to be treated with respect and care and sometimes having someone there who can vouch for your pain and symptoms can help you feel supported.

4. Avoid downplaying the severity of your symptoms

  • Be truthful about your pain and symptoms.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

  • Ask your healthcare provider questions, especially when you don’t understand something they’ve said or done. Asking questions will help you to play an active role in your health and advocating for yourself.

6. Trust yourself & listen to your body

  • Always listen to your body because no one knows it better than you. If you really believe something is wrong, do not stop seeking answers until you know what the problem is.

7. Take notes

  • I love using the notes app on my phone to take notes during the appointment. For instance, if your doctor says you have a fibroid, ask what size, where is it located, how does this get treated, what are the next steps?

8. Don’t be afraid to get a new doctor

  • If your doctor is dismissing you, not serving you, unsupportive and you don't like the way you're being treated, then it's time to get a new doctor.

9. Don’t settle for treatment you’re not comfortable with

  • Remember, their job is to take care of you and serve you, not the other way around.

10. Always ask your doctor for copies of any scan or test result, even if they come back negative.

  • It may be helpful to digest the information after the appointment and it may also be helpful to have if you’re seeing other health care providers and/or specialists.

11. Know your patient rights

  • It’s important to know your rights as a patient. Before your appointment, do a quick Google search to see your rights.

12. Write down the outcome you want to achieve at the appointment

  • This will be helpful when asking questions and advocating for yourself during the appointment. What is your goal for the appointment? Do you want to get answers? Get a diagnosis? See a specialist?

13. Be specific and direct with your requests

  • Since doctor's appointments are typically around 5-15 minutes, it's helpful to be specific and direct.

14. If you feel like you’re being dismissed and the appointment is not going the way you had hoped it would, ask them how they’ve ruled it out and to write that in your records

  • Asking for a differential diagnosis may help to answer some of your questions so you can get to the root cause of your issues.

15. Have a healthcare TEAM

  • I personally think it’s essential to have a variety of practitioners. A health-care team is important because one person can’t do everything. There’s a time and place for everything.

  • Examples of a health care team can look like: your family doctor + naturopathic doctor + nutritionist + physiotherapist + acupuncturist

Listen to the full episode on the Holistic Women's Health Podcast

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