Guide to Advocating for Yourself at a Doctor’s Office
By Dr. Harold Delasalas, MD on September 21, 2022
Have you ever gone to a doctor’s appointment and didn’t feel truly heard? You might be struggling to find answers or get the support you’re hoping for on your health journey. Your feelings of frustration or disappointment are totally valid. Often it takes advocating for yourself and finding the right doctor to finally feel like you’re on the right path. We’ve compiled a list of things to keep in mind on your search for the right provider for you.
How to find a doctor that is compatible with your needs and personality
Often, the process of identifying a doctor or healthcare provider that works for you can be like matchmaking or a dating game. There are strategies in reducing some of the leg work which include:
Make sure your insurance is accepted at the facility where your doctor practices and that the office hours work with your schedule.
If you want someone who is tech savvy, check out their website. Does it seem up to date? Do they offer telemedicine? Is there an online patient portal?
Check out online reviews, but don’t let that be your only factor in choosing someone. Consistency in reviews tends to sometimes be from multiple patients over a long timeline and may simply be reflective of their personality and communication style versus just an individual who had a bad experience. A lot of people feel they want to go with the person who has the “highest ratings” or most “notable credentials/pedigree” but realize it’s often how easily they feel communicating to them that becomes the deciding vote.
Some patients like to have someone reliable like a friend or family member attend to have a second set of eyes or another opinion, especially if you are looking for a long-term relationship with a primary care provider or Ob/Gyn.
Having an initial well visit, versus waiting for a sick visit, can help determine whether a provider is a good fit for you.
Tips for advocating for your needs
It’s important that you feel heard and valued during your appointments. It can feel frustrating having your concerns devalued or told there’s nothing that can be done to help you. Here are some tips to help you advocate for your needs and some thoughts to keep in mind:
If you feel you are not being heard it can be helpful to follow the appointment with a message or email to the provider. Outline your specific issues that aren’t being tackled and see if the provider is willing and able to help you move forward. Most physicians don’t intent to ignore their patients’ concerns and more often it’s a communication mismatch.
It ’s important for you to have a trustworthy relationship with your physician or provider. If you still feel unheard in future visits, it may be better to part ways and identify an individual that is better suited to address your issues.
Speak with the head nurse or office manager to see if there are better times to coordinate a visit that may help optimize the time to discuss a pressing issue.
Try to focus the appointment and not discuss multiple issues at one visit, or ask the scheduler to arrange for extra time so you aren’t rushed during the appointment.
Switching to a new doctor
If you’re feeling ready to try a new doctor, take the leap! You’ve likely voiced your concerns and attempted to resolve the issues, but sometimes it’s just not the right fit. Here are a few things to keep in mind when switching to a new doctor:
Ask friends, neighbors, or other staff for recommendations on who else you could see that might be a better fit for your needs. Often there are local Facebook groups or other social media platforms where you can ask for recommendations based on your specific needs.
Keep notes from your previous visits so you can move the conversation forward and address things you’ve already tried.
Ask your new physician to request records on your behalf. Sometimes there is a fee and often it will take some time to facilitate the request.
Keep contact numbers (phone and fax) with you of the providers you are seeing and provide it for inclusion in your file.
While the Internet and shared knowledge is amazing, be cautious about self-diagnosis. Doctors and researchers are concerned about the trend for a few reasons, including the stress it can cause patients and the fact that the accuracy of the information is unreliable. Often, relying on online information leads to more worry about potential conditions and it can also result in spending more money trying to self-treat. If you have a concerning symptom(s), discuss it with your doctor, consider their recommendations and if it recurs you can always discuss with them what you may have seen (sometimes folks print it out) since it may also be taken in the wrong context and your doctor can provide feedback on its consideration.
As mentioned, most doctors sincerely want to help their patients. To ensure prioritization of your concern, you may also consider scheduling a separate visit JUST to discuss this versus tagging it along with a routine annual visit which may already have several objectives your doctor is working on to ensure your chronic conditions are well managed, and appropriate preventative test/procedures are discussed.
Taking the time to find a provider or physician that you trust and feel comfortable with is important. We hope these tips help you go forward with confidence in your health journey.