A crucial part of being your own healthcare advocate is taking an active role, instead of letting your medical care be something that happens to you. The goal here is, of course, for you to be able to have a say in your care options and to be sure you’re making informed decisions that are best for you and your growing family, but it’s not always easy to feel empowered when sitting in a provider’s office. After all, they’re the expert and it can feel like they have all the power.
But an ideal patient-provider relationship will actually involve the two of you coming together to work toward improved health care and health outcomes for you. A few ways to ensure that you can work with your provider in this way and act as an advocate for your own care include:
Communication is key in creating a good rapport between you and your provider. This can be challenging if you don’t know the ins and outs of what’s being discussed, if you’re at all nervous or ill, or if your provider is not necessarily the best communicator to begin with. Your provider should speak to you in plain language that you can easily understand, but it's also important for you to feel free to ask for explanations if anything is unclear, even if that feels tough.
It's common to feel reluctant to be a bother or to be embarrassed to speak up, but helping you understand your own health is part of your provider's job. Let them know if you don’t understand something they’ve said, if you need further explanation, or if you have follow-up questions.
Knowing your goals for the appointment
Sometimes it’s hard to get as much time with a healthcare provider as you might like, so it helps to be prepared before heading into an appointment. Before you walk in, try asking yourself what you want to get out of the meeting. Making a list of questions, symptoms, or concerns you might have in advance of the meeting can be helpful, since it's easy to lose track of some of your thoughts or questions when you're put on the spot.
Bringing up questions or concerns that are especially important to you early on in the appointment can help you make sure that the questions you wanted answered don't get rushed through or brushed off at the end of the meeting.
Doing your research
Knowing your healthcare history, and being prepared to talk about it with your provider can help them give you the best possible care for your unique personal history, and can help to give you a sense of control over your health — after all, your provider may be the expert on healthcare, but you are the expert on your own body. And if you’re someone who likes to do a bit of research on your own before an appointment, that can also be helpful for familiarizing you with terms and ideas you might be hearing about, but it's also important not to get overwhelmed and to make sure you're getting your information from a trusted, reputable source.
Taking notes during an appointment can also be helpful for making sure you're keeping track of all the important information you're given, as is keeping track of any paperwork or care info you're given when you leave an appointment.
Sharing your knowledge and preferences
Your healthcare provider — whether they're a doctor, nurse, or midwife — is a medical expert, but you have knowledge to share too. You know your health history, you know what’s normal for you and what’s not, and you know what sort of recommendations for care are likely to suit your lifestyle and actually stick, and that's all information that can help your provider give you the best care possible. If specific courses of care are discussed, are you comfortable with them? Do you want to talk about the risks and benefits of certain treatment options? Alternative options? Are you worried about cost or invasiveness? These are things to have an honest discussion with your provider about so that they can help you consider all your options.
Knowing when it’s time to call it quits
Ideally, you should be working with a provider who takes you and your health concerns seriously, who treats you with respect, and who you feel you can trust. Every once in a while, it's worth checking in with yourself to make sure you feel like you’re working with a good partner in your care. Are you comfortable with the care and options being provided to you? Hopefully the answer is a resounding yes, but if you just don’t feel like you’re being heard — or worse, if you’re feeling disrespected, pressured, or like you’re not being taken seriously — then it could be time to get a second opinion or find a new healthcare provider.