How to be a Self-Advocate in a Healthcare Setting

It’s an unfortunate fact that many Americans worry about visiting their doctor’s office.  A 2023 PatientPoint survey found that 48 percent of all respondents reported putting off medical care due to anxiety and uncertainty. Of those who reported putting off regular medical visits:

  • 52 percent cited concern about being able to afford treatment
  • 40 percent cited anxiety about potential procedures or tests
  • 39 percent cited fear of receiving bad news or a serious diagnosis

The truth is that these concerns are completely valid – medical care can be expensive, some procedures can be unpleasant, and patients may be confronted with difficult news. At the same time, delaying medical care can make any or all of these hurdles more difficult to clear later, so developing strategies to overcome this anxiety are critical.

While there’s no silver bullet solution to overcoming medical anxiety, one way to manage these concerns is by developing a set of self-advocacy skills that will give you a greater sense of control over your own medical care. Doctor visit

Read on for self-advocacy strategies you can use to address the three most common sources of medical anxiety.

  1. Understand your insurance coverage before your doctor’s visit

  • Prior to scheduling a doctor’s appointment, review your current healthcare insurance policy to better predict what your healthcare may cost. As you review your coverage, be sure to note questions you may have and call your insurance provider to have these questions answered directly.

Understanding your coverage will allow you to make a more informed choice when choosing a healthcare provider, and validating your insurance coverage with a doctor’s office while booking your appointment can take much of the guesswork out of receiving care.

  • If your doctor recommends additional tests or procedures and you are concerned about potential costs, don’t feel as though you need to rush to a decision. You are ultimately in control of the pace of your care, and confirming your coverage for additional tests with your insurance provider is completely reasonable.
  • Medical insurance typically only pays for services they deem “medically necessary.” That said, if your doctor believes a test or procedure is essential to your medical care, they can make that case to your insurance provider.
  • If you receive your medical care through a larger hospital network, you can seek the assistance of a Patient Advocate, a hospital employee who is on staff with the express purpose of helping patients access care and support.
  1. Plan your doctor’s visit

Whether you need to see a doctor for a specific illness/condition, or if you are due for a regular checkup, there are several steps you can take to ensure your voice is heard and you receive the care you need.

  • When you schedule a visit, alert the scheduler about anything specific you feel is important to discuss. You do not need to provide a lengthy explanation, but something as simple as “I’ve been having trouble breathing when X,” or “I’m concerned about Y,” can help structure your visit and ensure enough time is booked for your appointment.
  • Most doctor’s visits will involve answering questions about your current diet, sleep, exercise, medications taken, unusual symptoms, and family medical history. One way to ensure you provide your doctor with the best possible understanding of your unique situation is to write down this information prior to your visit.
  • Take time prior to your visit to write down key questions and concerns you have in order of importance. If you have several questions and are worried you may not have enough time to cover them during a visit, ask your doctor’s office if you can send an email prior to your visit describing what you hope to discuss.

During your appointment, don’t be afraid to write down and/or repeat back what you have been told to ensure you have a firm grasp on the information provided.

  • If needed, you can also ask a close friend or family member to come along on your visit or join by phone. Having a companion along gives you a second set of ears and can help prevent missing key pieces of information.
  1. Following up after a visit

If you receive a diagnosis and/or plan of care following your initial visit, there are still steps you can take to maintain a better sense of control and understanding of your ongoing treatment.

  • If you need something clarified, didn’t get to ask a question, or a new question surfaces after your visit, send a concise follow-up email or use the office’s online patient portal (if they have one.) If you do not receive a response, don’t be afraid to call the doctor’s office and let them know you have additional questions.
  • If you have received a diagnosis, don’t be afraid to research your condition and possible treatments. That said, be sure to only rely on reliable, peer-reviewed sources like the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the Mayo Clinic.

Gathering additional information about your medical condition helps eliminate uncertainty and may help you plan your future treatment, while allowing you to have more informative communication with your healthcare providers during treatment.

  • If you have been diagnosed with a serious or chronic medical condition consider finding online or in-person support groups related to your experience. These groups can provide a wealth of information on managing symptoms, what to expect during treatment, or even make referrals to trustworthy specialists.

SelectCare has provided New Yorkers with in-home care for more than 40 years, and believe every patient deserves to have their voices heard. To learn more about our team and how we help patients live happier, healthier lives, contact us today, request an in-home care guide, or read our clients’ testimonials.