Advise Me

How to Advocate for Yourself When You’re Talking to Your Doctor

When you’re at your doctor’s office, you might find it hard to speak up for yourself. You might be focused on anxious thoughts about the health concern that brought you there. And on top of that, sometimes there’s a cultural belief that the doctor is the expert, and you’re not supposed to question that authority. “It’s similar to when you find it hard to stand up to or question your boss at work,” said Randy Gelow, MD, family physician at Banner Health Center in Phoenix.

But when you’re talking to your doctor, it’s important that you advocate for yourself. “First of all, it’s in your best interest,” Gelow said. “And, no one person can know everything. Bringing up alternative ideas can help your doctor come up with ideas they normally wouldn’t have thought about.”

List out your questions ahead of time

Make a list of your questions or concerns. Before your appointment, jot down questions as you think of them—your notes app on your phone is a good tool for storing your thoughts. Even if it feels like a long list, it can help your appointment be more organized. Gelow recommends printing out the list of questions and sharing it with your provider so you can go over them together. A list of questions can help prevent both you and your provider from feeling rushed.

When you ask questions, you help your doctor understand what you’re concerned about. Then, they can explain whether your concerns are plausible. Their answers can help ease your mind.

Be specific and include details

Sharing a lot of information with your doctor can help them get to the bottom of your problem. If you see your doctor for headaches, for example, share details such as how often you are having headaches, when they started, where in your head you are experiencing pain, how painful they are and what you think might be triggering them.

Explain your concerns when you schedule your appointment

Your provider’s staff will schedule an appointment for a certain length of time based on your symptoms or needs. If you are seeing your doctor for an annual wellness exam, for example, you may not be able to discuss other issues at that appointment.

It’s important to tell the scheduler if you have other concerns so they can book the appointment appropriately and allow time for your provider to answer all your questions. Other things that may need to be addressed at the same time as your annual wellness exam may include back pain, heavy periods or any other concerns.

Build in time to arrive at your appointment

Showing up before your appointment starts is respectful of your doctor’s time, and it helps you too. You’re not going to communicate well with your doctor if you feel stressed because you arrived late.

Recognize that you might disagree with your doctor

It’s OK if you don’t agree with your provider. But disagreeing may make you feel defensive or confrontational, and you might be tempted to accuse your provider of not treating you correctly. A better strategy is to ask questions to see what other options might make sense. “This is much less threatening and can open up a dialogue that can help both of you,” Gelow said.

Build a good rapport with your doctor

It will be easier to advocate for yourself if you know and trust your provider. To develop and maintain a solid relationship with your provider, see them at least once a year for a wellness exam. “That annual check-in can help establish rapport so if and when other health issues come up down the line, your provider is already familiar with your health history,” Gelow said.

See your same provider as much as possible for any medical concerns that aren’t urgent or emergencies. If you have a sore knee or a minor rash, for example, turn to your primary care provider first. “There is a lot your provider knows about you that isn’t contained in your medical record that can help them come up with the best treatment plan for you,” Gelow said. “If you have a long-term relationship with a provider, they often know more about you than you think. Don’t forget that they are considering your entire mental and medical health history when they suggest plans to help you.”

Know when it’s time to look for a new doctor

Not every provider and every patient are a good match. If you constantly feel like you are rushed, your provider isn’t listening, you can’t ask questions or you don’t have time to get through your list of questions, you may want to find a new provider.

The bottom line

You might find it challenging to speak up for yourself when you visit your doctor. But it’s essential to make sure your doctor answers your questions and addresses your concerns. If you would like to connect with a primary care provider, reach out to Banner Health.

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