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Why You’re Not a Good Advocate for Your Own Health

Posted February 19, 2013 by Marcy Twete in Life After Five

I’ve become a great big fan recently of the Hulu series “Larry King Now.” Sure, we like Piers Morgan, but no one is quite like Larry King. His Hulu show has become my go-to program to watch on my iPad as I drift off to sleep each night. Recently, Larry brought together an interesting group of people to talk about a not so uplifting topic – suicide. It was a tough show to watch, but somewhere in the middle of it, Dr. Drew Pinsky said something that was so clear and so moving, I simply had to share it with you and talk about this topic. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the problem with our health care system, and specifically our mental health care system, is that when most people have serious mental health problems, they go to their primary care physicians, most of whom have no mental health training. The issue, he says, is that when something is really wrong (mental or otherwise), it’s very difficult to get past your family doctor and in front of the care providers you truly need.

This notion made me wonder – what is the solution? I then started to think about my friend Archelle Georgiou and her work with Healthgrades.com. Healthgrades found that most Americans spend less than an hour searching for a doctor. I thought, “Seriously? That’s less time than I spent looking for someone to wax my eyebrows!” The hard truth is, we don’t do nearly enough to advocate for our own health care. If we need help, physically or mentally, we don’t stand up for ourselves nearly enough.

So the big question is this – how can you advocate effectively for yourself and your health? Try these tips:

  • Before you go to the doctor (for anything), write everything down you want to cover. We all get nervous in doctors’ offices, so naturally you’ll forget something. Keep that list with you to make sure you’re able to get the answers you need to the questions you have.
  • Don’t be afraid to demand more time. Doctors are busy, and often you’ll endure long wait-times because doctors are running behind. Naturally, then, many of them will speed through what they may see as routine appointments. You should not be seen as routine, and your time with your doctor should not be rushed. You must be willing to be assertive, ask more questions, and demand the right to spend the adequate amount of time with your doctor.
  • You can change your mind! Often, we choose doctors based on their affiliation with our insurance companies, but you need to feel trust in that person. A few years ago, I had what I thought was a medical emergency (it wasn’t, thank goodness), and the primary care physician I had seen only one time refused to even squeeze me in with a Physician’s Assistant until 4 days later. Here I was, scared, and not sure what to do, and my doctor and her nurses didn’t care. You can bet I changed doctors immediately!
  • Don’t sign or agree to anything you don’t fully understand. Doctors can speak in what seems like a foreign language. Don’t let those medical terms bulldoze you. Too often, people get home with a medication, and don’t truly understand what it’s for. If you can’t explain every step of your treatment, you’re not doing a good job of advocating for yourself. Ask the questions, and read the small print
  • If he or she won’t give you a referral, someone else will! Referrals can be tricky business medically. You often need them to get to the next level of care, but doctors are not always willing to give them. But trust me, there is a doctor out there. Keep going back until someone listens to you and refers you for the right level of care.

You are the only person who can really, truly know what’s needed for your body and your health. Don’t let yourself be bulldozed by a confident doctor if you believe you need something different or better. Take your time, stay calm, and be your best advocate.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."