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How to advocate for yourself at medical appointments

If you feel your voice isn't being heard or there is refusal to hear and answer your questions, it's time to get a new doctor.

How to advocate for yourself at medical appointments

Editor's note: When it comes to the medical field, women are often treated differently than men. Women often report having their concerns dismissed or downgraded by medical professionals. For example, research has found that women are less likely to receive pain medication than men are after having the same type of surgery; we also wait longer to receive pain medication than men do.

It is essential that the medical community do a better job of recognizing and addressing this bias. In the meantime, women must feel empowered to stand up for themselves (and their children and family members) in the medical setting. We are incredibly grateful to OB/GYN Dr. Kiarra King for sharing her tips on how to advocate for yourself and your health.

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With changes in insurance and health care systems merging, it can be hard and confusing to navigate the medical space. The last thing you want to do is not be aligned with your physician.

Here are 4 tips on how to practice self-advocacy in the health care space.


1. Make the appointment.

I know it's hard. I know you often run around taking care of kids, spouses, dogs, cats, bats... I mean, you name it (okay, maybe not bats, but hey, I was on a roll!). As the old adage goes, you can't pour from an empty cup. If you aren't well, how on earth can you optimally care for others?

Answer these questions:

When was your last annual physical?

When was your last annual gynecology exam?

When was your last mammogram, if applicable?

Do you have a health concern that you've failed to get checked out?

If you can't remember the answers to the first three questions and answered yes to the last question, Houston we have a problem!

Pick up your phone now (like right now), call your doctor and make the appointment. Don't delay another day. You deserve to live in good health and have peace of mind. Don't let it be that you are forced to seek medical care because your symptoms are so far advanced. If you don't fill your cup, who will?

2. Ask your doctor questions.

I cannot tell you the number of patients who apologize for asking questions. I usually look at them, tilt my head and stare in confusion before asking, Why are you apologizing? A doctor's visit is absolutely the time you should be asking questions.

You may not be able to ask 5,000 questions in one visit, but it's absolutely reasonable that you ask your physician about your concerns. In fact, I suggest writing down your questions and bringing them with you so they don't slip your mind.

If you get the impression that your doctor is bothered by your questions, it may be time to find a new doctor. I say may because if you've previously had a good relationship with your doctor and have one visit that is a little off, they could be having a bad day—maybe they have just given a bad diagnosis to another patient, or perhaps they might be feeling ill; after all, doctors are people, too.

However, if you feel your voice isn't being heard or there is refusal to hear and answer your questions, it's time to get a new doctor.3. Bring a friend or family member to your appointment.

I'm not suggesting your mom or girlfriend be in the room during your annual pap smear visit. However, if you are anticipating results of a biopsy or mammogram, it won't hurt to have someone tag along.

When people get serious diagnoses, they often don't hear anything after the words "you have cancer," for example. Their minds immediately shift to survival mode. Having a supportive person with you can help keep you on track and be a second set of ears to help process information.

4. Get a second opinion.

You get one life. And life is too short to live with regret—that includes decisions made about your health. I strive to provide quality care with compassion and empathy, but there are times when I tell my patients they need to see another specialist. The recommendation may happen for a variety of reasons, but there are also times when it is perfectly appropriate for a patient to request a second opinion or do their own research, if inclined.

As I previously mentioned, if you ever get the sense that you are bothering your doctor with questions, consider seeking alternative care. If your concerns are constantly being swept under the rug, get a second opinion.

It's important to find a doctor that suits your needs, but I caution against doctor hopping as that can lead to discontinuity in your care. Moreover, doing proper research before seeing a new doctor can hopefully help cut down on any disconnects that may occur. Ask your friends and family for recommendations. You can even ask your primary care physician for specialist recommendations.

At the end of the day, your health is on the line and no one will fault you for doing what is right for you.

This article was originally published on DrKiarraKing.com.

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