When you’re sitting in an appointment with a healthcare provider, hopefully you’re working with someone who listens to your concerns, hears your wishes, explains your care circumstances and options plainly, and treats you with consideration and respect. And, ideally, you’re working with a provider who you feel comfortable speaking with honestly.
But it’s normal for it to feel challenging to speak with a provider in this way, for any number of reasons — you may feel hesitant to be seen as a bother, embarrassed to speak up, or frustrated or angry if you think you’re being dismissed. All of this can be even more overwhelming if you’re sick, and it can stand in the way of you advocating for the sort of care you want, need, and deserve. Bringing a support person with you when you’re receiving care can make you feel more confident.
Why is self-advocacy as a patient important?
You’ve spent a lifetime in your body — you know what’s normal for you, what’s not, your health history, and your preferences for care. Your healthcare provider may be an expert in their field, but they can’t know these details that are a hugely important part of the picture when it comes to your health. So it’s crucial to take an active role in your care, instead of letting your medical care be something that happens to you.
This means being honest about your unique wants and needs (and making sure that your provider hears you), confirming that you fully understand all of the information they’re sharing with you (and if not, that you ask questions and get clarity), and that you’re willing to fully participate in any plans for care. Transparent communication with your provider doesn’t just give you an improved healthcare experience; it also helps to keep you safe.
How can a support person help?
There’s strength in numbers, and a support person, whether a partner, friend, or family member, can help by being present to back you up as you make your wishes known. They can be there for emotional support, to take notes, to help you ask questions, and to help ensure that your wants are heard and your needs are met — whatever you need to feel best supported. So it can be helpful to let your support person know in advance of the appointment what would be most useful for you.
Who can serve as a support person?
Anyone who you trust and feel comfortable having with you at a healthcare provider’s appointment can serve as your support person. This might mean your partner, mother, sister, cousin, friend, or another loved one. And if you’re pregnant or postpartum and working with a doula, your doula can also serve as a support person. Anyone who has your back can be valuable to have along and can be a great source of support as you advocate for the care you want and deserve.
Ask for what you need, and get creative if you need to
Some healthcare facilities may limit how many people you can have physically present with you, so it’s worth asking about their policies and if they can accommodate your wishes. It’s also worth noting that in many places these sorts of policies may have become stricter because of COVID-19, and some facilities may not allow anyone to accompany you during prenatal and postpartum visits or may limit the number of people who can accompany you during labor.
But there are still ways to get the support you need. For example, if you can’t have both a partner and doula present with you for labor, you can use technology — a smartphone, video chat, or messaging apps — to connect and have your support system present virtually. Ask for what you need, and get creative if you need to. You deserve to have your support system present every step of the way.