7 ways to advocate for yourself at your doctor visit

When it comes to seeing your health care provider, there are several ways to get the most out of your time with them. Providers may have limited time because they’re helping everyone in the waiting room — including you — feel better or live a healthier life. Depending on the reason for your visit, the time you get with your provider might not be very long.

So, it’s important to use that 1-on-1 time with your health care provider to ask the right questions and get the information you came for. To do that, it’s a good idea to be prepared. Read on to learn 7 ways to advocate for yourself, so you can make the most out of every appointment.

1. Prioritize your questions

Before your appointment, make a list of questions — and put them in order of importance, advises Teri Dreher, R.N., owner of NShore Patient Advocates in Chicago. Dreher also recommends asking your health care provider how much time you have together when they enter the room. This will give you a sense of how many questions you’ll be able to ask.

2. Be specific

If you’ve noticed a new symptom — for example, a cough that won’t go away — use details when you describe it, suggests Dreher. Let your provider know when the symptoms began, how often they happen, and what makes them better or worse.  

If you have medical history or have received care from other providers related to this symptom, sharing that information may be helpful.

“Stay on point,” she says. That means talking with your health care provider about the issue you came to see them for. While connecting with your health care provider is important, you want to be sure you get the information you need in the time you have with them.

3. Bring a list of your medications

Over 25% percent of American adults take 4 or more prescriptions, according to the KFF.1 The more medications you take, the greater the chance they can interact with one another, notes Michael Hochman, M.D., a Los Angeles internist.

Your health care provider can go over your list with you. Or, if you can, bring the medications with you to review in person. Your list should include prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines and any supplements you take — along with your pharmacy’s phone number. Mark down the following details for everything on your list:2

  • Brand or generic name
  • Reason you take it
  • Dosage
  • How often you take it

This is a good time to let your health care provider know if a medication doesn’t seem to be working well or if you’re experiencing unusual side effects.

Your appointment can also be a good opportunity to ask your health care provider if you no longer need to be taking any of your medications. (If you see more than one health care provider, be sure to share your medication list with each of them.)

4. Ask about screenings and shots

It can be confusing to figure out which screening tests you might need and which you might be able to skip. One good place to check before your visit is the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website.

You’ll also want to find out which vaccines you’re able to get. Some people may want a flu shot every fall and may also consider a COVID-19 booster shot, advises Dr. Hochman. If you’re 50 or older, you may want the shingles vaccine as well. For adults 65 or older, the pneumococcal vaccine is also recommended.3

Additionally, if you’re 60 and older, you may want to ask your health care provider about the RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) vaccine. Chronic conditions that may increase your risk of RSV complications include lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney and liver disorders.4 If you have any of these conditions, you may want to consider getting the RSV vaccine.

5. Ask for generic medications

About 3 in 10 adults say that they didn’t take their medication as prescribed in the past year because of cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.1 A good tip to help offset that cost: ask your provider about lower cost alternatives, like a generic medication. There may be another medication that works just as well, but costs less.

6. Bring a family member or friend

If you can, it’s a great idea to have someone join you, advises Dr. Hochman. It’s another set of eyes and ears during your visit. They can take notes and help you remember what the provider said.

Be sure to tell this person in advance what your goals are for the visit. “You [may] want to pick someone who isn’t overly talkative and is respectful,” says Dreher. “You don’t want them to take up more of your doctor’s time. You should do most of the speaking, and at the end, if you’ve forgotten something, they can add their thoughts.”

7. Be engaged in the conversation

This can help show your health care provider that “you want to be an active partner in your health care and participate in shared decision-making,” says Dreher.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions either. “If something doesn’t make sense to you, or the doctor uses a term that you don’t understand, ask for clarification,” she stresses. “It’s also fine to ask them what they would advise their own parent, spouse or sibling to do.”

Advocating for yourself may feel uncomfortable at first, but it’ll likely get easier the more you do it. Playing a bigger role in your own health care journey can help you maximize every health care appointment — and may help you stay healthier too.

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