4 Ways to Advocate for Yourself At the Doctor
We’ve all been there, after waiting for thirty minutes PAST our appointment time, the doctor comes in, barely makes eye contact, asks us a few questions, and then leave. Often we are thrown a prescription on the way out and given a recommendation for follow up.
It feels like they aren’t listening, we don’t know what the medication is for, and we hope the Pharmacy writes clear directions, because we actually don’t understand what just happened.
Healthcare in America is its own beast. It’s a conveyer belt of medications, appointments, and phone calls to dispute charges we don’t even remember receiving.
In order to combat that, it’s important to know these FOUR ways to advocate for yourself at the doctor.
1) WRITE IT DOWN
Doctors are NOT mind readers. We need to come prepared so we can be active participants in the direction the appointment goes. If we don’t tell them what we need to know, they don’t know what to tell us, so they do their best. Always have a list of questions ready to go. This way you won’t forget what you need to ask, and you can even give them to the medical assistant prior to the doctors appearance. Doctors will appreciate the heads up, and they may even be able to carve out extra time if they know they need to.
2) USE THEIR NAME/ “I”STATEMENTS
Doctors are not mind readers and they are also people. As people respond well to our names, it naturally heightens our attention. The reality is, Doctors are overworked, underpaid, and don’t often have the privilege of collaborating WITH clients. Using “I” statements keeps us from coming off as accusatory, and helps take some the responsibly away from the doctor. Practice a script beforehand that gives them an idea of just how many questions to have, and why. “Hi Dr. So-and-So, I know you are busy, and I have 4 questions about my situation I would like to review with you today, I am feeling anxious about this new diagnosis.” If you feel like you can’t get a word in don’t be afraid to interrupt with, ”Excuse me, Dr. So-and-so, I need help understanding better, can I clarify a few items with you? I have them written down.”
3) GET A SECOND OPINION
Finding the right doctor is like dating. Sometimes you need to date many people before you find the right person who match’s your energy and values. They key here is not shopping until you find someone who gives you the answers you want, but rather, to find the office and person who makes you feel heard and seen, even in the short 15 min appointment time you have.
4) CALL FOR BACKUP
Have someone with you to help keep your own records, remember what was said, and even ask additional questions you may not have thought of. You can have a private case manager attend a visits with you to help advocate at professional level. If you are going for a surgery consult, maybe a therapist attends the appointment with you to ask questions about follow up, and other expectations.
The caveat* is to remember that MD’s are people too.
Reimbursements from insurance are decreasing daily, and inflation is rising everywhere else. To run a successful medical practice in this society, Doctors have to see a large number of patients during an hour in order to reach a level of reimbursement that keeps their doors open.
Most Medical Doctors went into practice to help people, and are often struggling with how to answer their calling AND handle the required paperwork, denials, and the appeals.
The clerical work behind the scenes is often so overwhelming that patient engagement is hard to maintain in some clinics.
As patients, we can do our part to advocate for ourselves, while also supporting our Medical Doctors by being prepared, treating them like humans, asking for help from our support systems, and getting second opinions when warranted.