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5 Ways to Advocate for Yourself at the Doctor's Office

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While a lot of health issues can be fixed with a quick visit to a family doctor, several conditions may require several additional tests, procedures and referrals before symptoms can be properly addressed. Unfortunately, some of us need to work extra hard to ensure that our concerns are being taken seriously.

Men in pain may often be taken more seriously than women experiencing the same symptoms, but can face discrimination in seeking mental health treatment. People who are overweight can be automatically “fat-shamed” by professionals who won’t try to fix the issue until patients lose weight.
Systematic racism and internal biases lead to practitioners not always treating people of color as effectively as their white counterparts. People who have a history of mental health issues may face dismissals of their symptoms or experience gaslighting. Younger patients can face judgment from doctors for being “too young” to have the described symptoms or be told that it will go away with age.

Whether it’s caused by systematic failures of an overburdened healthcare system, apathetic professionals or blatant discrimination, many people face barriers in getting the treatment they need for their chronic condition. The following can help in preparing you to be your best advocate, despite the barriers in place that prevent equality in healthcare.

1. Bring Someone

Ask your significant other, friend or family member you trust to go with you to your appointment. Not only can that person help be an emotional support, but their presence with you in the office can be more validating with the doctor seeing that someone vouches for your symptoms. It can also be a deterrent for some doctors to not speak over or dismiss the patient. If you are unable to find someone to go with you, look into local non-profit groups who may be able to connect you with an advocate for the appointment.

2. Documentation

Always ask your doctor for copies of any scan or test result, even if they come back negative. Official paperwork is important to bring with you to all specialists who may have a differing opinion about your illness. In a notebook, make sure to document any changes in your condition along with what may have triggered it (if applicable) and how long the symptoms lasted so you can relay the information to your doctor.

3. Research

Some conditions may have a host of treatments, but your doctor may suggest one you don’t prefer – if one is suggested at all. If you don’t have a diagnosis, doing your own researching online through medical journals and support groups may guide you in the right direction, leading to a formal diagnosis (or exclusion of) later.

4. Be Assertive

While many doctors thrive on learning more about the health profession, some professionals can become disgruntled at what they perceive to be a dig at their educational skills, background or judgment calls. No matter how difficult a professional may be, sticking to facts regarding your symptoms and clearly articulating what goals you have for the visit will get you answers – even if sometimes they’re not the ones you want.

5. Find Another Doctor

No matter how prepared or polite you are, there are times when the doctor you see isn’t the right fit. Whether it’s because your symptoms are outside of their specialty or their bedside manner is lacking, it is more important to move on than trying to “stay loyal” to a doctor who is not helping you. Find recommendations online or through other doctors and call their offices beforehand if you have any questions.

Getty Image by OstapenkoOlena

Originally published: May 27, 2018
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