I have had a slew of horrible experiences with doctors, and they only worsened once my health plummeted due to copper toxicity and the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s. I have been misdiagnosed, bounced around from office to office, dismissed, patronized, and outright lied to. I have left doctor’s appointments sobbing, upset, angry, and confused.
Even if you aren’t currently dealing with a chronic illness (or a crummy doctor), it’s important to develop patient-empowerment skills before an issue arises. This information is also applicable if you are a caregiver for a loved one.
What is Patient Empowerment?
Patient empowerment is typically defined as patients being active in their care, ranging from making medication decisions, challenging a doctor, to speaking up in appointments.
In my opinion, it is so much more. Patient empowerment, to me, means conducting research, challenging your doctor, putting yourself first, asking questions, being fearless, and sometimes pushy, to get the results that you want. Ultimately, it’s being your own advocate in all health care settings.
Why Is it Important?
In interpersonal contexts, we understand why it is important to stick up for ourselves. Although this doesn’t always happen, I think we can mostly agree that if we don’t stand up to a bully, loved one, or roommate, who else will? We cannot count on others to constantly speak for us. This same applies in medical settings.
How to be Empowered
1. Find a doctor you vibe with (which is sometimes a challenge!)
- You probably have had a friend refer a restaurant, movie, or band to you, so why not do the same for medical practitioners? You can also research doctor ratings online; however, be aware of rater-bias when using these resources.
- Do your research
- Read studies, side effects, personal testimonials, and more to understand what is going on with you. This has been crucial to my success. I have read about almost every supplement that I take, different diet protocols, other’s stories, and more. Even better, doctor’s appointments are enjoyable because I can use my newfound knowledge base to keep the dialogue going during appointments.
- Keep a journal full of notes and questions for your doctor’s appointments.
- I bring my laptop to appointments and note everything that my doctor says. This is helpful because then I can look back at my notes and create a plan on how to follow my doctor’s suggestions.
- Take notes on what you are doing behind the scenes. Have you started a new diet? Taking a new supplement? Keep track of each variable (sleep, diet, exercise, supplements) that may be making you healthier or sicker. This way, you and your doctor can work together to unpack what’s going on.
- Write down questions before going into your appointment so you don’t forget!
- Share your story. The power of narratives can be cathartic and help others feel empowered too!
- Share your story with as many people as you can. Even if it’s just “I started taking this medication and x, y, z happened.” I have had the opportunity to speak to people about my health, and I know I have helped at least one person recover from IUD-influenced pain, which is a great feeling.
Well, I hope that some of this information has left you feeling empowered and motivated! Have you ever enacted any of these practices before? Do you have any suggestions that I left out? Leave a comment below!
Julie Maio is a Communication Specialist for the Office of Admissions at Illinois State University. She recently graduated from ISU with her M.S. in communication, focusing her research on doctor-nurse-patient communication. She currently is working to put her Hashimoto’s into remission, manage histamine intolerance, and keep getting healthier mentally and physically. In her spare time, Julie loves to read, watch Netflix, go to live shows, strength train, dream about Don Draper, and eat bacon. She aspires to move out west within the next few years, and some day, she plans to return to her home, Albany, NY.