Being Your Own Health Advocate
Have you ever gone to a doctor’s appointment with questions, concerns, and data you’ve gathered and left without being able to get a word in before the doctor had to whizz off to her next patient? Or have you voiced concerns about your current treatment plan and asked for alternative options only to be met with a statement such as “this is how things are done.” Or maybe you feel like you don’t even know what questions you would ask your health care providers if given the chance.
As patients, we put trust in our health care providers and believe that they hold the answers to all of our problems, the antidotes to our ailments. In the model of health care practiced today we expect to go to our doctors with problems and leave with a magic pill to cure us. Sounds like an easy fix right? In some cases this model definitely works. But as humans we are complex beings and rarely does a quick fix pill actually work to resolve our underlying issues especially in relation to chronic disease.
We are all so unique and our health is impacted by many factors such as our genetics, personal history, diet and lifestyle, stress levels, and overall satisfaction with life. No doctor is going to have the vast amount of knowledge that we have of our own bodies. You are the only one that possesses that wealth. This is why it’s so vitally important that we learn to work in conjunction with our health care providers and add our own expertise to theirs.
For example, say there are two people with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One might be caused by an underlying bacterial overgrowth from antibiotic overuse while the other is caused by stress from an abusive relationship. Their treatment courses for IBS will be completely different and they will not benefit from a one-size-fits-all treatment without consideration of their unique personal experiences. These patients need to work in conjunction with health care providers to create effective treatment plans and require ongoing support to find ways to get back to health. We must become our own advocates and enter into a relationship with our health care providers where we are playing as part of the team rather than standing on the sidelines.
As Andrea Nakayama, Functional Nutritionist says,
Sometimes in the midst of dealing with illness or pain we feel like our health is one big mystery and we act as if what’s going on in our bodies is none of our business. But it’s the only body you’ve got and you better believe it’s your business! I want you to feel empowered to learn about your illness or imbalance, to ask informed questions, to work with your providers to find alternatives, and to ensure that your voice is heard. You can do this by:
- Researching your illness to get informed
- Writing down questions you want to get answered as they come up
- Beginning the process of tuning into your body (through meditation, journaling, food diary analysis, mindful breathing) so you can accurately convey symptoms and feel more connected to what’s going on in your body
- Assembling a care team that wants to work with you and foster your empowerment. Don’t be afraid to make changes if you don’t feel supported by your health care providers, it’s meant to be a two-way relationship.
You may have heard of people having health advocates that accompany them to doctor’s visits, or a family member who acts as an advocate. It’s always great to have another pair of ears during appointments to ensure that nothing is missed when going through the health care system and I highly recommend having your own form of advocate if you don’t yet feel comfortable on your own. Read more about what advocates can do for you here >>
Here is a link to the Washington State Health Advocacy Association for more information about what health advocates do and how to go about hiring one in Washington Sate.
So let’s do this you guys! It’s time to reclaim our health and enter into partnerships with our health care providers in order to obtain vibrant, beautiful health. If you want to learn more about how you can empower yourself this year to be your own advocate send me an email, I’d love to hear from you!
Christina Tidwell, MN, RN, CHC