How to be your own health advocate
November 06, 2018
Have you ever found yourself sitting in the doctor’s office, struggling to articulate the symptoms you’re experiencing and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere? Or how about on the phone with your insurance company, unsure of how you ended up with that bill you’re holding? Have you ever wished you’d gotten a second opinion on a diagnosis, a prescription medication, or a recommendation for surgery? If you feel like your health care is something that is happening to you as opposed to working with you, it’s time for you to take the reins and become your own health advocate.
Now, what does that mean, exactly? It means taking charge of your own wellness — doing research, asking questions, understanding your options, and developing a partnership with your providers so that you feel confident about your care. It’s about getting involved in your care so that you feel in control of your health. To do this, it’s essential that you're equipped with the knowledge and confidence to take your care into your own hands. So how can you get there?
Patients will often take the word of their provider without asking questions. The provider is the professional after all, so why shouldn’t that be the case? It’s important to understand that your providers can only work with the information you’ve provided them, and that could mean they aren't seeing the full picture. Have you shared with them your family medical history? Have you been honest about the symptoms you're feeling, and their severity? While your provider is an expert in their specialty, it is in your best interest to take an active role in the conversation so that the two of you can work together toward the common objective — thorough, quality care and a happy, healthy patient.
And, of course, the goal as a patient is to find care providers that you feel comfortable enough with to communicate openly. You should feel empowered to ask for more information if you need clarification on anything they have said or to state your concerns about a diagnosis or a prescription recommendation. Don't be shy! It is within your right to ask as many questions as you'd like. You want a doctor who will be your partner in health.
One thing we like to recommend is to prepare for your appointments in advance, writing down any questions or concerns you may have ahead of time. Your questions will help you capitalize on the limited time you may have with your provider, and will also help foster a positive doctor-patient relationship based on the common goal of your health. Your appointment should be an opportunity for open, two-way communication, so don't feel pressured to simply nod along and listen if you feel that you may not be understanding everything.
Do Your Research
This may be a bit counterintuitive to a lot of advice telling you to “ignore what you read on the internet,” but what that means is that you should not just do a quick Google search of a symptom or two and take the findings as fact. What that does mean is that there is a lot of information available to you online to teach you about anything from health risks and diagnoses to prescription medications and surgical procedures. Even simple searches on trusted websites like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or Swedish could help you get a better understanding of what you may be experiencing. Whether it's learning about a condition or exploring treatment options, there is plenty of valuable information available at your fingertips.
Maintain Your Own Records
Keeping track of your own medical records is beneficial for a number of reasons, a major one being that it will give you the opportunity to track patterns in your basic health — like your heart rate, weight, and blood pressure. Many health care systems now offer online patient portals, like the Swedish My Online Chart, making it incredibly easy to keep your records in one place.
Maintaining your own medical records is also handy when it comes time for your first visit with a new physician, or upon establishing care with an entirely new facility. Having a copy readily available will save you the hassle of transferring individual records from each of your previous facilities when time is of the essence.
Understand Your Insurance
Do you fully understand the options available to you within your current insurance plan? Do you have a grasp on the basics of your coverage? Do you know who is in network, out of network, and what that all means? Health insurance can be difficult to understand — it's messy, complicated, and the landscape can seem to be constantly changing. Even understanding the basic health insurance terms like deductible and copay could be extremely beneficial to you.
Being your own health advocate doesn't just end in the doctor's office — you should know your rights and responsibilities when speaking with even the hospital billing department. Understanding the facilities and procedures that your insurance covers will also help you avoid unexpectedly high medical bills!
Use the Resources Available to You
Take advantage of the help and support provided by your health care provider. Swedish offers focused support and resources for an array of health concerns, from Optimal Aging services for seniors to childbirth and parenting classes. Download Circle by Swedish, the free app built to address all your questions about raising healthy kids, from pregnancy through the teen years.
The Swedish Health Connect app has everything you need to take charge of your health, from appointments to health records to messaging your doctor and more.
Need to see a provider? Find a Swedish doctor. Swedish Express Care offers neighborhood clinics with same-day urgent care appointments, and virtual visits on your smartphone, tablet or computer.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.