You Need Help: How to Self-Advocate for Better Medical Care
If we lived in a perfect world, there would be no barrier to getting the healthcare you need. Unfortunately, there are always barriers. You might be restricted by your insurance. Or you might experience discrimination based on your race, age, sexuality or gender.
This is nowhere more true than intimate health concerns.
One of the weapons in your arsenal against the nightmare of seeking medical care is to self-advocate. Self-advocating means speaking up for yourself, making your own choices about your care, learning how to get information so that you can understand everything fully, and finding people to support you.
Of course, this can feel easier said than done. Especially if you feel shame or panic about your medical concerns. Here are some tips on how to self-advocate for better medical care.
Before the Appointment
Prepare For Your Visit
Self-advocating care start with non-urgent concerns as well. It will make it much less overwhelming in more serious situations!
A good habit any time you have to go to the doctor is to prepare. Make a list of issues you want to cover at the appointment and think of questions you want to be answered.
If you have a specific complaint, try to remember when it started, what you’ve tried already, what makes it better or worse, and any symptoms that you’re experiencing.
There are plenty of apps for tracking your symptoms of everything from endometriosis to psoriasis!
It may feel silly to try to bring up several issues in one appointment, but it can help give your doctor a better overall picture of what you’re going through. There may also be connections you don’t see.
For example, did you know that Restless Leg Syndrome can correlate with iron deficiency?
Just make sure to let the person booking your appointment know you want to cover several topics, so they can block out the appropriate amount of time!
Do Your Research
Research, research, research! If you have a really specific health issue, it’s important to do your own research. And, find research from many different, reputable places. Yes, you may be able to find community with other people experiencing similar issues in a Facebook group, but misinformation is spread far and wide online.
Commiserating is great, but always take the medical information people give you with a grain of salt, and see if you can find it backed up by a trusted source like The Mayo Clinic.
Thankfully, a lot of false health claims and remedies have been passed around and recycled since the days of travelling medicine shows, so someone has probably written an article debunking whatever the hot ‘miracle cure’ of the moment is.
There are unfortunately some medical professionals who roll their eyes or dismiss research done by their patients. And while it’s true that you don’t have a medical degree, specializations take a lot of time and constant research to stay current.
Your GP may not have that up to date information, so being able to say ‘The Mayo Clinic wrote about X’ is a great way to have yourself taken seriously.
Explore Your Options…
If you’re looking for a specialist because you feel like you know what your complaint is, or even if you’re being referred by your GP, do your research.
Doctor’s clinics can have online reviews (though they may not be as extensive as the reviews of that new smoothie place down the block) so it pays to look.
What many don’t realize is that you can even change the doctor you have been referred to. If a specialist requires a referral, just as your GP. And if you try out a specialist, but experience something you don’t like, you can ask the referring doctor for a new one.
Your health—and comfort—take precedent!
….And Ask For Recommendations
It’s great to suggest researching medical clinics that specialize in intimate health needs like endometriosis. But what about the things people don’t advertise that will really make a difference in your level of care?
It’s things like doctors that won’t show you your weight during intake unless asked that makes a huge difference to people who struggle with disordered eating. Or receptionists who ask everyone for their pronouns. Even ‘welcoming’ clinics can let you down by making heteronormative assumptions or being uninformed.
Look to your community for advice. You can ask or search on social media, check out sub-Reddits catering to your area. Or even just ask your friends!
Everyone has had good and bad experiences at the doctor’s, so when it comes to self-advocating for better care, we should have each other’s backs!
At Your Appointment
We’ve all been in situations where we have been stuck with a doctor we don’t like. Here are some things you can do to make sure you’re receiving the right level of care.
Bring Someone With You
A friend or parent can be a great support person when seeking care. But not all of us have someone in our lives who can help us out. In that case, you can try a patient advocate.
They are trained professional (or volunteers) who come along to appointments and help to ensure you get the quality healthcare that you deserve.
They might serve as a translator, or specialize in topics like trans health, or women’s health.
Be Assertive & Ask Questions
Again, easier said than done! But being assertive doesn’t need to mean being aggressive. All you have to do is remember to clearly explain your goal for the visit (such as, get relief for a certain symptom, or gain answers about an issue) and give them the facts.
Refer to those notes you made before the visit, and don’t downplay how severe they are. Make sure to explain how it’s affecting your life. If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, don’t be afraid to say that it’s affecting your romantic relationship—that’s an important part of your life!
Ask questions! If you don’t understand something they’ve said, or they’ve made a decision for one medication over another, it’s 100% okay to ask why. Which brings us to another key recommendation for self-advocating for better medical care.
Take Notes…And Ask for a Copy of Theirs
Taking notes during your appointment can help you do research and get second opinions later. And, try asking the physician to write down any relevant notes for you so you can have a copy. This includes next steps if you have a diagnosis or copies of any test or scan results.
Remember, Your Health is Worth It
Seeking care is stressful. But stress isn’t great for your health either! Hopefully, by remembering these tips, you’ll be able to use the tool of self-advocacy to ensure better medical care. Good luck!
Lane Baumeister is an internationally-based Canadian writer with several years’ experience creating educational and entertaining articles that discuss intimate health and sexual well-being. When not waxing profound about menstruation, she devotes herself to enjoying extremely good food and equally bad movies.