As patients we often hear that we need to be our own health advocate, but what does that even mean? And how do you do it?
What does it mean to be a health advocate?
The very basic meaning of advocate is “a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc” or “a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor” So, if you are a health advocate, then you write, speak, or plead in support of health. On behalf of your health or that of another.
It’s one thing to be a health advocate who writes or speaks about health, but that’s not what people are talking about when we say that you need to be your own health advocate.
What it means is that you need to be knowledgeable enough to speak for your own health. Since it’s your body and you live with it 24 hours a day, you have the best start at being your own best advocate.
How can you be your own best health advocate?
1 . Document – Keep a journal of your day-to-day health.
Be sure to track your medications (including supplements), as well. This will help you see when changes occur what might be causing them.
It may help you to document your energy use, what you eat, and even the weather. The more info you have about your body and what it’s doing the better prepared you will be.
2 . Research – Know everything you can about your illness.
If you don’t know what your illness is yet, research your symptoms. Stick with reputable sources like NIH or WebMD. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
You also need to be careful because sometimes just seeing the possibilities (however remote) can add enough stress to make you feel even sicker.
3 . Take Notes – Take notes of the things you want to ask our doctor about, your symptoms, potential side effects, etc.
Many times we think of a question for our doctor but by the time we get to the appointment it’s slipped our mind.
Keep a notebook just for those questions and for information you want to talk to your doctor about. Remember to take that notebook with you to the doctor.
4 .Track Your Records – When any tests are done make sure you get a copy of the results.
Start an excel spreadsheet (if you are inclined) to keep track of various results, so that you can track changes over time.
Request copies of your medical files, you may find some interesting things that no one bothered to tell you about.
5 . Don’t Be Shy– Take your notes with you to the doctor, and ask him each question one by one.
Write down his responses as you talk, or (if he doesn’t mind) record the conversation.
If the doctor suggests specific tests or medications, ask him why he is suggesting that particular option over others. Ask him why he is recommending specific medications and what results he hopes to see.
6 . Use the App – Before you leave the doctor office with a new medication, look the med up online or via the drugs.com app.
Check for any potential interactions between that medication and others that you are taking. Review the side effects and discuss any concerns with the doctor.
When should you be your own best health advocate?
Start now. Don’t wait. Even if you’ve already been chronically ill for years, it’s not too late to get started. It will just take a little more effort than if you’d started from day 1. If you are getting a late start, do this:
1 . Request Your Records –
Head to your doctor’s office and ask for a copy of your records for your own personal use. They may charge you for them (a printing fee). If you can get them digitally it’ll save you a lot of paper (and possibly some money).
Call ahead and ask what you need to do to get a copy of your records for your personal use. You’ll have to call each Dr, and for lab work you may need to call the place where the labs were done.
You can also use an online service to do this for you. I used PatientBank to request my medical records.
2 . Research – Once you have your records, read through them.
Look for potential diagnoses that were never mentioned to you. Look at your lab work. Not changes to your labs over time. Then research what those labs are, and what those changes may show.
3 / Note Questions – Write down any questions you have about what you read.
If you can’t find the answers from general research, make an appointment to discuss your questions with your doctor.
- The importance of requesting your medical records
- 3 Steps to choosing the right doctor
- 4 Good reasons to change doctors
- Are you making your healthcare appointments work for you?
- Book Review: The Patient’s Playbook