Living with Chronic Pain
Becoming a Better Self-Advocate During Medical Appointments
What is self-advocacy?
When living with chronic pain, long-term illness, or a disability, it is often necessary for individuals to advocate for themselves in order to receive the care and resources they need. This may include advocating for themselves with physicians, employers, hospitals, pharmacies, or other groups, such as disability resource offices. Successful self-advocacy ensures needs are identified, personal goals are set, and concerns are shared with a physician. Additionally, it can build confidence, ensure informed health care decisions are made, and secure control of ongoing self-care.
Becoming a better self-advocate during medical appointments
Self-advocating during a medical appointment may be intimidating or uncomfortable; however, the benefits of self-advocating are well worth the effort. With simple tips, planning, and practice, individuals can improve their efficiency of self-advocating. Tips for becoming a better self-advocate during medical appointments include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Find a trustworthy primary care provider. Researching a physician prior to making an appointment helps individuals find a provider who aligns with their goals, values and preferences. A trustworthy primary care provider ensures individuals are confident and comfortable providing honest communication. They can also help with referring to a trustworthy specialist as needed. This makes self-advocacy during medical appointments effortless.
- Make a list. Making a list of questions and concerns prior to an appointment and referencing it during the appointment ensures that nothing is forgotten and needs are being met. Note the top three to five questions or concerns at the top of the list to help make the best use of limited appointment time. Current medications (name, dose, and schedule), vitamins, supplements, and medical history should also be listed.
- Clearly communicate symptoms. Clear communication is essential in being a successful self-advocate. Individuals should be as specific as possible with symptoms and concerns. For example, saying, “I have calf pain” is less likely to address an individual’s specific concerns than saying, “I have had calf pain for the past few days immediately following a long flight; I’m concerned due to my family’s history of blood clots.” This helps the physician fully understand symptoms and concerns in order to provide the required care.
- Take notes. Take a specific notebook to all appointments. Ask questions and note the answers to avoid future confusion. When interacting with different physicians, note their name, specialty, treatment options, medications prescribed, concerns, follow-up, etc. This can be especially helpful in a hospital setting when various physicians, nurses or specialists are jointly caring for an individual.
- Voice disagreements. Although disagreeing with a medical professional can be uncomfortable, it is also very important. Being vocal but calm when disagreeing can allow the physician to realize the option may not be right for the individual, or provide an explanation and reasoning that may clear up confusion and ease anxiety. It can also alleviate any misunderstandings on the physician's part. If disagreements are frequent or not resolved satisfactorily, a second opinion or a different health care provider may be necessary.
- Confirm follow-up. At the end of an appointment, individuals should summarize what they understood follow-up should be. This can help clear up any remaining confusion and prevent specific orders, (e.g., additional testing, medication changes, follow-up appointments, etc.), from being missed. It also ensures the doctor and patient are on the same page prior to leaving the appointment.