Being your own health advocate can be scary—especially when you’re not feeling well or are experiencing symptoms for the first time. But no matter if it’s your first appointment or fourteenth, you are not powerless.
How to Be Your Own Health Advocate
- Start with the appointment
- Arm yourself with information.
- Ask questions.
- Keep your own records.
- Get a second opinion.
- Call for backup.
Start with the appointment.
Be specific about what you want from your appointment. When you made the appointment, did you call with a concern or for a general check-up? Make sure you cover the topic and avoid deviating. Your focus is important, but due to your input, it may alter how insurance understands what the appointment covered. For instance, scheduling your appointment for a general check-up and then spending the appointment talking about a major concern. In addition, if your Doctor orders labs or other tests, call your insurance company to understand what out-of-pocket costs you may be required to pay until the insurance pays everything in full.
Arm yourself with information.
The more educated you can be before walking in the door, the better. While you may not always feel well enough to do a Google search, it can pay off in the long run, especially if you have a chronic condition or previously diagnosed illness.
Taking the time to understand what your health insurance will pay and what out-of-pocket costs you will incur can also be helpful—and can make the difference between a $50 and $5,000 dollar bill. You are well within your rights to ask your insurance provider what they will pay and what is and isn’t included. If you find yourself speaking to someone who says they aren’t sure about your coverage, ask to speak to someone who can give you solid answers.
You should always feel comfortable asking your medical provider questions. These questions can be based on your own personal research, test results you were given, and more. Write down your questions ahead of time. This is especially important if your appointment was scheduled for an acute visit that tend to be brief or if it was for a physical which usually are 30 minutes.
When asking your questions, try to remain amicable and open-minded, as finding a doctor you feel comfortable with and maintaining a positive doctor-patient relationship is important. Don’t be afraid to explore other options if you are continually feeling bullied or ignored, or if you’re simply not having your needs met. Remember to take time to read bios online and familiarize yourself with the person you will be seeing.
Keep your own records.
Maintaining your own records is easier than ever in the digital age. If you’ve ever switched medical providers, or seen a specialist, keeping your own records will ensure nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Plus, showing you’ve taken the time to collect your own medical records shows any medical professional that you have an investment in your health.
Along with your medical records, you should want to be vigilant and review your medical bills closely. After all, up to 8 out of 10 medical records can contain errors. However, medical bills can be difficult to interpret. That’s why it’s even more important to do your own research and ask all the questions.
Get a second opinion.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as many as one in 20 people can fall victim to outpatient diagnostic errors and that nearly everyone will be misdiagnosed in their lifetime. This can result from miscommunication between patients and physicians, or primary care providers and specialists, or different healthcare professionals.
Even if you’re comfortable with the diagnosis you’ve received, staying informed is the most important tool you will have in your toolbox.
Call for backup.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and loved ones if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Having a well-informed someone by your side to advocate for you will not only give you an additional resource for questions and answers, it will also give you that much more confidence to advocate for yourself. If this person isn’t already versed in medical jargon, run through a list of questions they can ask on your behalf.
Advocating for yourself can be a difficult thing to do, especially when speaking with medical professionals, but you have the power and now the tools to make it possible.
NWPC is here to help you on your journey to being your own health advocate. With resources, tools, and expert advice, let us help you prepare for your next visit and take steps in the right direction.