During the recent virtual Close the Gap health summit hosted by Black Health Matters and Boston Scientific, Dr. Ijeoma Nnodim Opara of Wayne State University led a very important and timely discussion where she shared the best ways to advocate for your health as a patient.
In her session, Dr. Nnodim Opara emphasized two key strategies to leverage—build effective partnerships with healthcare professionals and be aware of the health advocacy support resources that are available to you. She also shared tips on what to do before, steps to take during and how to continue to advocate for yourself after each doctor visit.
More importantly, she highlighted some of the reasons patients may find it difficult to speak up for themselves when seeking out health care:
- Lack of knowledge and understanding
- Power imbalance
- Systematic barriers and historical untrustworthiness
Despite these possible obstacles, Dr. Nnodim Opara stressed that “you are the expert of your life and body” so it is imperative that you take the lead on your health care journey because, “patients who advocate for themselves gain the maximum benefit from encounters in the health care system.”
TIPS FOR BEING THE BEST ADVOCATE FOR YOUR HEALTH
Before your visit. Understand your goals for visiting the doctor and do a little research in advance so you can prepare questions. Even more important: Know your medical history as well as your immediate family’s. This way you are prepared to have a productive conversation about your health goals, etc. with your doctor.
During your visit. Listen, share your observations and ask questions—and if you have to, write notes. And remember to be honest and open. It will help show your doctor how you’d like to be treated. If necessary, bring a friend or family member that you trust to help speak up for you.
After your visit. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what your doctor shared during your visit, including any goals or next steps. Then, make a plan. This will help you stay on track in your journey to maintain or improve your health. If, for any reason, you find that the relationship you have with your provider is not working out, begin a search for a new doctor or find a patient advocacy group that you can join. You can also get involved in healthcare training by participating in patient panels or other opportunities that bring awareness to patient advocacy.
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