Why Self-Advocacy is Important in Healthcare

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By: Sam Bickford

Your body is an infinitely complex machine. All of us require routine maintenance and daily nourishment, but some of us with chronic conditions require even more than that. 

For better or for worse, our healthcare system is almost as complex a system as our bodies, which is why it is so crucial that you be your own advocate at the doctor’s office. No one knows what ails you better than you do!

To highlight the reasons why personal advocacy is so important, YMyHealth is publishing a two part series about millennials and self-advocacy in healthcare. In this first story you’ll learn about why patients in our age group, ages 25-41, need to advocate for their own health to receive adequate care. In the second story, you’ll hear millennial-aged doctors explain from their perspective why it is so important for Generation Y patients to be engaged in their own health and healthcare. 

What does Self-Advocacy Mean?

The definition of self-advocacy is “the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests.” 

With that definition in mind, it is easy to see how self-advocacy in the healthcare space is so crucial. Not only do you know your body and its needs best, but you also have the best understanding of your own comfort and goals.

It is very important to enter healthcare consultations with goals in mind. Goals provide context for your meeting—if you have a clear understanding of what you want from the doctor, you’ll have a better chance of getting it.

Why is Self-Advocacy Important for Patients?

We’ve all been to the doctor’s office and seen how busy and overworked they can be. Sometimes it can really feel like the doctor doesn’t have time to adequately confront your concerns. As frustrating as this can be, it isn’t the doctor’s fault but rather it is the collateral damage of such a big and complex system.

To mitigate the impact this collateral damage might have on your healthcare experience, it is important to come to your doctor’s appointments prepared. 

Ask yourself these three questions and answer them: “What do you want from the appointment?” “What are your questions?” “What are you willing and unwilling to try?” 

These are all things that are worth writing down to make sure that you hit all your points at your appointment. 

Even though doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners have authority and can seem very powerful, remember that they are there to serve patients. If you come into your appointment with explicit problems to solve, your issues are less likely to get lost in how busy that doctor is, and you’re more likely to leave your appointment with new medicines or strategies to help with whatever issue you might be dealing with.

How to Self-Advocate

My friend Gregor, a millennial with a chronic condition, likes to say, “Doctors are trained to see their jobs in terms of problems and solutions. If you come to an appointment with a clear problem, they are more likely to help you solve it.” This is good advice—it won’t work all the time, but if you come to your doctor’s appointment with a clear issue to confront, doctors are trained to confront acute issues as opposed to general problems. 

Here are some ways you can can strengthen your self-advocacy skills before your next doctor’s appointment: :

  • Believe in your own problems! You experience your own body, no one else does! Doctors might suggest that your problem is different than you think it is, but if that feels wrong stand your ground. Identify what the issue is and seek treatment for it. 
  • Prioritize your Needs! Doctors are humans and we should treat them as such. However, when you go to the doctor, they are there to help you, not the other way around. You are there to deal with your own issues, and even though doctors are human beings, in that office they are a tool to help you feel better. Make sure you use them that way.
  • Have a Plan! It is easy to plan in your own house and on your own time. But when you’re rushed and in a strange office, it is easy to get knocked out of your plan. That’s why you should come into appointments with a plan in writing. That way you can consult your notes and make sure you ask the questions and say the things you need to. 
  • Stay Positive and Stay the Course! Your self advocacy might not work exactly as it should the first time. That’s ok! Remember that you’re entitled to adequate care from doctors, you’re doing nothing wrong by confronting your issues, and the doctor is there to help you. Stay confident in your right to care and don’t let one little nudge off-track derail your whole train. 

Ready to Self-Advocate At Your Next Appointment?

It can be hard and scary to advocate for your needs in a doctor’s office, especially as a millennial since our age group is often thought of and seen as being “young, healthy, and invincible” from the outset. 

With these tips and a little self belief, you will be ready to ask for and receive the care that you deserve. Remember, the doctor isn’t your enemy—they have a tough job with lots of demands on their time to balance as we do, especially those doctors who are also members of Generation Y. Your job in their office is to let them help you by coming in prepared and confident in your experience. 

Stay tuned for part two of this series to hear from healthcare professionals about why millennial-aged patients advocating for themselves is so crucial to healthcare.

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