Going to the doctor can be nerve-wracking, especially if you or a loved one are going through a health crisis. You may feel nervous to speak up for yourself, become emotionally charged, or worry that you can’t trust your doctor’s treatment plan. We know that when people take an active role in their health, they are more likely to have better outcomes, and that’s why we’re committed to providing you with research-based information to help you make the best choices for yourself and your family. It can feel tricky to respectfully advocate for yourself with your doctor. You want to create a collaborative, non-combative relationship. We asked Dr. Shani Muhammad, a board-certified family physician with over 10 years of experience to share her top 5 ways to be your own health advocate. She shares in her own words.
Everyone deserves an encounter with their doctor that is respectful and sensitive to their needs and cultural differences. Respect is a two way street, and respecting the education and experience of your doctor is a fundamental part of a healthy doctor-patient relationship. In my experience, it is possible for you to be your own health advocate in a way that can foster such a relationship.
Know your medical history
While many physicians have electronic record systems, they are very segmented and do not integrate well into your doctor’s daily workflow. You shouldn’t assume that your doctor knows all about you when you walk in the door. Come prepared with a list of your medications and doses, and the reason that you take them. Include any vitamins and supplements you take as well. Be prepared to discuss any major hospitalizations or illnesses and surgeries. Know when you last had blood work or other tests and what the outcome was.
An informed patient is their own best ally and it saves a lot of time during the visit. It also signals to your doctor that you plan on being an active participant in your health and not just a passive bystander.
Note: I am a physician at SteadyMD and our team will retrieve your medical records for you and store them in one place. This is not always so easy with Primary Care.
List your top 2-3 concerns
Come prepared with no more than 2-3 things that are most pressing for you to have addressed at the visit. Unfortunately, the average primary care visit is about 15 minutes. The current “traditional” health care system just doesn’t give enough time to address every concern you may have all at once. It doesn’t mean your doctor doesn’t care. It just means they value your time and want to give each of your concerns the attention it deserves.
With this in mind, prioritize your concerns and come prepared to discuss in order of importance. Be up front about the reason for your visit so your doctor can address your concerns right off the bat. If you have more concerns than can be addressed in one visit, schedule a follow up for the rest until they are all covered. You will be glad you gave yourself and your doctor the time to really be thorough.
Note: This is why I love working for SteadyMD. I spend about an hour with all of my new patients. We can spend more time really getting to know each other, with unlimited follow ups beyond that.
Ask questions and be honest when you don’t understand
Your doctor should check in to make sure you understand any information they’ve told you. It is your responsibility to be honest if you don’t understand. We don’t want you to leave our office confused. Additionally, it is ok to ask why if you don’t understand your doctor’s plan of care.
If there is something you disagree with or don’t understand, ask why in a respectful way. For example, “I understand you don’t want to order that test I asked for, but I was reading an article and it suggested that this test should be ordered, so I’m a little confused. Can you help me understand why?” This helps your healthcare be collaborative instead of combative and shows that you have a genuine interest in partnering with your doctor to take charge of your health. Sometimes your doctor is saying no because something truly isn’t medically necessary or may do more harm than good.
Ask your doctor for reputable sources
We’ve all used WebMD or Google to diagnose ourselves (or worry ourselves more). If you read something somewhere, that’s ok. If you’ve already done research before talking to your doctor, print them and bring them to your visit to share or look over together. The internet is full of misleading (and, frankly, incorrect) information. Your doctor is a scientist trained to read, understand, and decipher the meaning of medical studies and research. They can help you make sense of it and direct you to sites that have helpful, evidence based answers.
Taking advice from strangers on the internet, neighbors, friends and family members can sometimes be helpful but can often be confusing and inaccurate. Everyone’s health and body are different. What works for one person may not necessarily work for you. It is best to talk to your doctor about any concerns you might have.
Know it’s OK to find a different doctor
If you feel like your doctor is frequently dismissing your concerns or not listening to you, find a new doctor. A doctor patient relationship is no different than any other relationship. It needs to be a good fit on BOTH sides. If you don’t feel respected, heard, and understood, it may be time to move on. In order to get the best care possible, you need to feel comfortable being completely honest. You can’t do that if you don’t feel a connection with your doctor. Most doctors will not be personally offended if you chose to move on. It’s better to do that than to have an uncomfortable office visit every time you have a health concern.
As a doctor, I personally enjoy patients who take an active role in their health. SteadyMD pairs me with patients that have similar interests, goals or lifestyle choices, completely online. I spent over 10 years in the traditional primary care setting and LOVE working with patients online through SteadyMD.
Be your own health advocate: Join SteadyMD
SteadyMD is your personal doctor, online. They pair you with a doctor based on your diet, lifestyle, and health goals. Your doctor sees a limited number of patients, so they have way more time to get to know you and help you get to the root cause of your health concerns. The service is completely online, so you can skip the waiting room and text or call your doctor anytime, from anywhere. Click here to take a 90 second quiz & get matched with the right doctor for you!
Dr. Shani Muhammad, MD is board certified in family medicine and has been practicing for over ten years. Dr. Muhammad trained at a large county hospital system in Cleveland, Ohio and treated a wide variety of medical conditions with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication therapy. Dr. Muhammad believes that health is a spectrum of wellness to illness and we can move the needle towards wellness with lifestyle changes that are sustainable.
Dr. Muhammad is CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certified and loves hiking and riding her Peleton bike at home. She has done Whole30 several times, was vegetarian for three years, currently eats paleo and has lost over 40 pounds through diet and lifestyle changes. Dr. Muhammad is a mother of two teenagers and loves to cook/try new recipes and travel in her free time. She also speaks multiple languages, including Spanish!
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