How to become a better self-advocate in a medical setting

illustration of patient talking to healthcare professional wearing masks

For many people—even those with family doctors—walk-in clinics and urgent care centres are an important part of their health care plan. Whether you have a primary care provider or rely entirely on clinics, knowing how to effectively advocate for yourself is an important part of maximizing your care.

Here are some tips to help you build your confidence so you can get the most out of your medical appointments:

  1. Know your rights. Every province has its own version of a patient’s bill of rights. Although not legally binding, knowing your rights may give you a confidence boost. The list varies from province to province, but nearly all include the right to be treated with respect, to access to your health records, to consent to/refuse treatment, and the right to seek a second opinion.
  2. Compile your personal information before you need it. Using a service like PocketHealth to maintain lists of all current and recent medications and supplements, your personal medical history (including any imaging), and your family medical history ensures this information is up-to-date and accessible, saving you time during your appointment.
  3. Be clear about the reason for your visit. If you have multiple concerns, write them all down so you can present them to your doctor. Your priority may not be the same as theirs, and this way you can discuss what to focus on first to ensure you get the care you need in the time you have.
  4. Take note of your symptoms. When did your pain/fever/etc. start? What makes it feel better or worse? How often does it occur? Having ready, documented answers will help you confidently explain what’s going on when the doctor asks questions.
  5. Try to stick with the same clinic. When possible, it’s helpful to return to the same clinic since they will have your previous visits on file (let them know you’re a returning patient when you arrive/book your appointment).
  6. Ask for a differential diagnosis (or, in plain language, ask “what else could this be?”). Chances are, you’ve done some research ahead of your appointment; if you feel your concerns are not being addressed or the doctor’s conclusion surprises you, ask them about it. Hearing their reasoning will hopefully be reassuring. If not, it gives you an opportunity to ask what else your symptoms could mean and how they know your issue isn’t one of those other things.
  7. Ask questions when you need clarification. If you wait until the end you’re likely to forget what you wanted to know, so don’t hesitate to interrupt and ask in the moment.
  8. Clarify any follow-up plans. At the end of the appointment, repeat back the next steps as you understand them. This gives you and the doctor the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings. Then write down what happens next so you don’t forget.

Being a successful self-advocate takes practice, but it is a skill you can learn and continue developing. The more prepared you are, the more confidently you will be able to answer questions, push for answers, and assert your needs.

Pocket Patient Perspective

“I always have a list prepared when I go see the doctor because the time is valuable. Now I can ask questions about what I see on PocketHealth. I go in there and say, ‘I know I’m in over my head here, but what does this word mean or is this bad?’ And the doctor will explain it to me. It allows you to ask more questions.”

– Dan, a PocketHealth patient who was able to coordinate faster care thanks to PocketHealth

How PocketHealth can help
Clinics will likely keep short-term patient records on file, but if you don’t have a primary care provider you likely don’t have a centralized medical record. Using PocketHealth can help you keep all your records in one place, making it easy to share them with any new clinic or provider. If and when you do get a family doctor, PocketHealth makes it easy to quickly share your full medical history with them, ensuring the care you receive is as comprehensive as possible.

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