Health Care Self-Advocacy: Be the Squeaky Wheel
It’s your body, and no one has more incentive to take care of it than you do. You can’t depend on anyone else to take the reins when it comes to your health. The responsibility lies with you. Don’t be a passive patient; be a squeaky wheel.
Be pro-active about your health.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to diet, exercise, sleep, and any condition-specific requirements. You may have no control over your genetics, but how you treat your body every day has an enormous impact on your overall health and on your quality of life.
- If you’re healthy, your goal should be to stay that way for as long as possible. If you have a medical condition, it is your responsibility to research and educate yourself as much as possible. Your doctor can steer you toward good resources, but you’ve got to do the homework.
- Think beyond modern medicine and compliment it with natural techniques for maintaining good health and harmony. Don’t forget to feed your spirit with meditation and relaxation techniques.
Visit Care2.com’s Healthy and Green Living for eco-friendly health and wellness tips.
Foster a strong doctor-patient relationship.
- Your time with the doctor is limited, so make good use of it by communicating your concerns clearly.
- Be honest, however uncomfortable it may be. Don’t deny that you smoke or drink if you actually do, or that you take medicine as prescribed even if you don’t. You are free to decline to take your doctor’s advice, but lying to your doctor about your lifestyle habits could lead to disaster.
- Be prepared for your doctor appointment. Bring a list of questions and the names and dosages of any medications you are taking. If you have previous test results, bring them along. If you have an undiagnosed illness, keep a journal of symptoms and how you attempt to treat them.
- Ask questions about suggested treatments, alternate treatments, warning signs, etc. If you don’t fully understand something, repeat it back to the doctor for for accuracy. Make an appointment for a yearly physical well in advance.
- Rather than being a passive patient, partner with your doctor and take an active role in your own health care. Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion if need be. Your action plan should include a living will and a designate to speak for you should you become unable to speak for yourself. Keep all your medical information in one place for easy access.
- If your doctor is demeaning, dismisses your concerns, or is generally not acting in your best interests, it’s time to search for a new doctor.
Advocate for yourself and your family.
- If you have health insurance, learn what your policy does and does not cover. If you believe your insurer has made an error, don’t hesitate to call them on it — and document, document, document — every single interaction you have with them.
- If you do not have health insurance, contact your local health department to inquire about programs or free clinics in your area. Keep informed on health care legislation. Learn who your congressional representatives and senators are and don’t hesitate to let them know where you stand on the subject.
- If you must apply for social security disability, get all the facts before you act. Make sure you speak to your doctor first and prepare the proper documentation. If you need a handicapped parking permit, check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to learn what is required before you apply.
- If a family member is not able to fully answer questions or understand doctor explanations, offer to attend appointments with them. Likewise, bring someone with you if necessary. Ask questions and if you don’t understand, ask again. Don’t hesitate to take out a notebook to jot down important information.
- If your doctor wants to schedule you for a test, ask why the test is necessary and what can be learned from the results. Is there another way to get the same answer? If you do not receive a report after taking a medical test, call your doctor’s office. Don’t assume that no report translates into a clean bill of health. Insist on confirmation of results.
- If you have a chronic illness or disability, seek out organizations specific to that condition. Many of them will be able to steer you toward helpful resources, both nationally and in your area.
- When your doctor pulls out the prescription pad, make sure you understand the specifics of the medication. What is it? Why is being prescribed? Is it necessary? Do the potential risks outweigh the benefits? Is there any other way to handle the problem? Do your doctor and pharmacist know about other drugs you are taking? How long should you expect to take it? Can you handle the expense?
Research and learn — seek out multiple trusted sources for medical information.
- American Medical Association’s Resources for Patients – From finding a doctor to exploring health care careers; from health and medicine resources to helping us advocate for patients’ rights.
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Disability.gov – Connecting the disability community to information and opportunities.
- Kaiser Family Foundation – Non-profit foundation focusing on major health care issues. Non-partisan source of facts and information.
- Mayo Clinic – More than 3,300 physicians, scientists and researchers from Mayo Clinic share their expertise to empower you to manage your health.
- National Institutes of Health – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the nation’s medical research agency.
- Social Security Disability Online – Information regarding benefits for people with disabilities.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Provides the public with health and safety information.
- World Health Organization – Directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system.
- Your doctor.
- Your local Department of Health.
- Your public library.
Self-awareness + self-education + self-confidence = self-advocacy. Have a voice in your own health care… be the squeaky wheel!