10 Ways to Be Your Own Patient Advocate


What is a patient advocate?  A simple definition of a patient advocate is this:  one who helps the patient by asking the right questions and in turn, getting the appropriate care at the right time.  A patient advocate can be someone who is paid or unpaid, but usually has some type of medical background and knowledge.

You have a say in your healthcare

You can become your own advocate when it comes to your healthcare and the choices you have.  And even if you might have somewhat limited choices depending on your health care coverage and the area you live in, you still have a say in the care you receive.  The following are my suggestions, based on both my experience working in the healthcare field for almost 30 years and as a patient myself:

  1. Ask questions.  If you don’t understand what your clinician (ie physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, etc) or the healthcare staff is telling you, ask them to clarify.  As in any specialized field, we sometimes forget that not everyone understands our jargon or acronyms.
  2. If your clinician is ordering blood work or other lab tests, MRI, ultrasound, etc, ask why the test is being ordered.  Ask if there are any special preparations for the test, such as the requirement to be fasting.  If you are paying for a test, and more importantly, you want accurate results, it is best to be properly prepared.
  3. If you want to know what the clinician is trying to rule in or rule out, ask – you have the right to know.  However, be aware that often times a test is done to rule out a disease or condition.  This means that just because a particular test might indicate possible cancer, for example, it doesn’t mean you have cancer because the test is being ordered.  Often times a negative result is as helpful in finding the cause of symptoms as a different test’s positive result.
  4. Research conditions, tests, etc. and be an informed patient/consumer.  A fantastic website which has accurate information on lab testing and on conditions/diseases is labtestsonline.org.  I highly recommend it.  The more informed you are, the better you will be able to ask the right questions at the right time.
  5. Another great website for comparing hospitals and providers is medicare.gov hospital compare.  This site is not only for those covered under Medicare.  The site has reliable tips on choosing a hospital and the capability to find and compare hospitals based on their quality measures.
  6. Before going to see your clinician, write down your questions and take notes during your appointment.
  7. If you don’t feel comfortable asking questions or you’d like to have another set of ears to hear, bring a trusted friend or family member with you to your appointment(s) when possible.
  8. Check your bills for accuracy.  I have had incorrect billing occur on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately, it does happen.  An incorrect diagnosis code or inaccurate insurance information can cause improper charges.
  9. Many hospitals now offer the ability to check test results online.  View your results and be prepared when you go see your clinician for a follow-up visit or call the office.
  10. Communication with your clinician and the healthcare staff is key to success.  When we keep the lines of communication open, we can often improve our experience.

Our goal is your good health

Those of us that work in healthcare are most often there because we want to help others.  Unfortunately, with the increased demands placed on physicians, allied health staff, and others working in healthcare, it can be a stressful environment.  We are all human.  At times we may need reminding that ultimately we are there to care for our patients.

Summarizing Self Advocacy

Being your own patient advocate can assist you in being more satisfied with your healthcare experience.  And the better informed you are in your care, the more likely you are to follow your clinician’s advice.  This helps your chances to stay healthy.

That is an all around win-win for everyone!

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