Being Your Own Health Advocate
As a health educator, I’ve always encouraged patients to take an active role in their health. In our current healthcare system, being your own advocate is crucial. Many of us interact with multiple healthcare providers. Medicine is both a science and an art, and different doctors – even those with the same specialty – may have different approaches and ideas for treatment, and it can sometimes be a process finding the right doctor who works together with you as a partner. Across all the different doctors’ visits, as well as complementary treatment practitioners, the patient is the single constant and is the best judge of what’s truly going on within his or her own body.
Often, when first diagnosed with a condition, the patient is ignorant of all the complexities with their new status, as well as dealing with the emotions of having a new label. I’ve certainly experienced this when I’ve been given a diagnosis, like when I was first told I had IBS. Questions swirled in my mind: What does this mean? How will this affect my life? Can it be cured? Some of the questions I posed to the doctor, but others were for my own contemplation.
For better and worse, we now have Dr. Google. Mostly, I think it’s to our benefit, as there is a wealth of information at our fingertips. However, occasionally it can be detrimental, if it leads to paranoia or if the information isn’t factual. It’s important to get health information from trusted sources and to use your intuition and take subjective or unsubstantiated claims with a grain of salt.
Here are three ways to empower yourself and be your own health advocate:
- Research your condition. Educating yourself about your health conditions enables you to understand what is going on and provides you with the background you need to be able to communicate more effectively with your health care team. While Google or other search engines are a great place to start, notice the source of the information provided.
- Prepare for doctor’s visits. Take some time before any doctor’s visit to note what questions you have, what symptoms you’ve been experiencing, or any side effects from medications you want to discuss. If you are seeing a new doctor, it can also be helpful to come with a list of previously tried treatments and/or medications.
- Trust yourself. While doctors have skills and expertise from their studies and their clinical practice, you are the expert in what you’re experiencing. If something doesn’t feel right, ask questions. If you feel like you’re not being heard, seek a second opinion.
I think the biggest learning for me in becoming my own health advocate was learning not to give away my power. By that, I mean that I was so focused on looking for answers outside myself that I gave more credence and respect to others than I did my own intuition. I now trust my gut (as they say), and I take an active role in my healthcare and have created a healthcare team that works in collaboration with me.
Have you ever had a public IBS accident?