It’s hard to be your own advocate, but it doesn’t have to be.Karen Dwire, one of our occupational therapist here at PeerWell Health, explains why patient advocacy is so important and how to do it well. Read on to learn more about being your own champion, building a support network, and improving the quality of your healthcare.
Has this ever happened to you?You’re on your way to your doctor’s — thinking about all the questions you want to ask them — and when you get into the consult room your mind goes blank. And unfortunately, your questions go unanswered. We forget what we were going to ask. We don’t know what to ask. Or, we’re afraid to ask questions for fear of offending or second guessing our doctor.
This is where preparation with your PeerWell team comes in handy — learning how to self-advocate as a patient.We are here as your advocates — connecting you with a dedicated nurse coordinator and extensive care team — who keep you in the driver’s seat of your care.
What does patient advocacy involve?
“As a patient myself off and on since I was 5 years old, I have fired as many as I have hired. This is your life and your health. Be inquisitive and go the distance on equipping yourself with the right team who appreciates you for the savvy consumer of healthcare that you are.” – Karen Dwire, PeerWell Health occupational therapistAs a patient, self advocacy is essential for navigating the healthcare system with success! Self-advocacy means feeling like you’re in control of your care. It means getting answers to your questions and being actively listened to during your visits. At the root of it, doctors are problem solvers. They’re tasked with making choices based on the information they’re presented with. Being able to present your doctor with the whole picture can help you receive better care. Open communication will save both of you time and headaches. Patient advocacy starts with knowing the right questions to ask.
Whole-person care is a powerful patient advocacy tool that helps doctors see the whole picture.Your PeerWell team cares deeply about whole-person care. Whole-person care means that we see you as more than just knee, shoulder or back pain. We see you as someone with different levels — someone whose nutrition, job, home life, mental health, physical activity levels and emotional health all affect their overall health. Read more about whole-person care. As healthcare professionals, and as a team, we also know how to help you formulate questions for your doctor that get results.
2 examples of whole-person care enabling patient advocacy:
- Helps your doctor see the full picture — Your physical therapist or occupational therapist can help summarize improvements in your strength and flexibility, which may help the doctor determine if you can reduce or even stop your pain medications.
- Gives your doctor a deeper understanding of your progress in other areas — Similarly, your behavioral health therapist and dietitian can re-iterate your progress in areas such as diet, lifestyle, and behavior changes so your doctor has a better understanding of your overall progress.
Asking your doctor questions — becoming a patient advocatePeerWell Health occupational therapist, Karen Dwire, shares her tips on what questions you might want to ask your doctor as your own self advocate.
What to ask:
- If you’re on medications: Can we review my medications and make sure there aren’t any drug interactions? Also, I am wondering if I can get off of any of them as I’ve had improvements in my ____ (joint pain, headaches, mood, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.).
- If you’re curious about your options: What are other options besides medication or surgery for my condition?
- If you’re thinking of saying ‘yes’ to surgery: What are the risks of the surgery you’re recommending? What are the risks if I don’t get it? For this question, your therapist or care manager can help you find studies that show the risks and benefits of a specific surgery. This usually surprises doctors as most patients don’t work on informing themselves and asking good questions like the ones above.
- If you’d rather not have surgery: Last time, you recommended surgery for my __________ but I have been working with my ____________ (physical therapist, occupational therapist, dietician, nurse or social worker) and I’ve had these improvements: Ex. I now can walk without dizziness, have more range of motion in my leg, revamped my workspace and now my pain is better, etc. Is surgery still necessary?
Other ways to advocate for yourself as a patient:
- Have someone go with you: if you’re physically at the doctor’s office but your family member or support system can’t make it, have them be on the phone.
- Ask your PeerWell team to do a progress report that you can hand to your doctor to help answer their questions.
- Feel comfortable asking questions.
- Seek a second opinion if you feel like your questions weren’t fully answered.
Be your own advocate.Remember, you are the driver of your health vehicle. When a warning light comes on, it needs to be checked out. If your doctor refuses to look at outside information, gets upset when you request a second opinion, or continually looks at the computer instead of focusing on you during the visit, it may be time to check in with your gut feeling that something isn’t right. You shouldn’t feel stuck in your healthcare.
You’re not alone.At PeerWell Health, your care team is committed to getting you the care you need – whether that’s helping you navigate your doctor’s visit, getting you extra treatments, or helping you change your day-to-day to have less pain. If you need special help with patient advocacy or talking to your doctor, tell your care coordinator.
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