Advocating for Yourself at Medical Appointments

It’s totally normal to feel nervous before seeing a health care provider (HCP). You may be embarrassed about the reason for your visit or worry that your symptoms mean something is seriously wrong. But it might help to know that a health care provider has heard every embarrassing question you could ask!  A HCP’s job is to answer all of your questions so you have a clear understanding of the next steps to take for your health.

So, how do you prepare for an appointment with your health care provider (HCP)?

Before the Visit:

  • Write down a list of all your questions—it doesn’t matter if the questions are embarrassing or you think they’re stupid. It’s important to make sure all your concerns are addressed. Write them down in the Notes app on your phone, or just scribble on a piece of paper. You are less likely to forget your questions and to speak up if you write them out beforehand! Also, don’t be afraid to ask about any general concerns you have about your body or health, such as asking about acne during a visit about something else.
  • Consider tracking your symptoms each day in an app or notebook. Some popular apps to track symptoms are Symple, Flaredown, or Clue (for periods). It may also be helpful to think about (and write down) when you first started noticing your symptoms, and if they have gotten worse or better. Having all your symptoms in one place can make the visit easier and make you more comfortable speaking up. What you’re experiencing is real and deserves to be heard!
  • Use reliable websites: If you look up your symptoms on the internet, keep in mind that not everything you read on the internet is true. Websites connected to hospitals, medical groups, and the government are generally very reliable and up to date. And remember, researching your symptoms on Google does not replace being seen by an actual health care provider.

During the Visit:

  • Refer to your list of questions and symptoms. Make sure to review all of your symptoms and ask all of your questions. Your HCP may ask you to share these at the beginning of the visit or after they do an exam. Either way, don’t be shy when the time comes.
  • If the HCP says a word or a phrase you don’t understand, ask them what it means. You can also ask why they recommend something. This appointment is about your health and body, and you deserve to be as informed as possible!
  • Speak up if you feel that the treatment plan isn’t possible. For example: Maybe you don’t feel safe exercising in your neighborhood, or you have difficulty getting a birth control prescription without your parents’ knowledge, or you don’t know if insurance will cover a recommended test. Your HCP and their office staff may be able come up with a different treatment plan, or brainstorm other options.
  • Make sure to end the appointment with a clear understanding of what the problem is and the next steps. For instance, you can repeat back to the HCP what you heard and understand about your diagnosis and treatment to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
  • Tell your HCP if you feel they are not listening to your concerns. You can simply say “I feel like you’re not listening to what I’m saying” or “I feel like you’re not taking me seriously”. If you still feel they are not listening, then it may be possible to switch HCPs. Just like you won’t be friends with every person you meet, you may not want every HCP to treat you.
  • If the visit is about something you don’t want your parents to know about, ask the HCP if you can keep your conversation private. For example: If you know going into the visit that you want to talk about something private and your parents usually go into the exam room with you, then you can call the office beforehand to see if they will put a note in your file that the HCP should ask your parents to stay outside for part or all of the exam.

After the Visit:

  • Call your HCP’s office if any questions pop up after you leave, or you realize that you forgot to mention something important. Many offices have online portals where you can message your HCP or nurse directly. But keep in mind, your parent or guardian may be able to see those messages.
  • Follow up with your HCP if your treatment plan isn’t working. You can call their office, message them online, or make a new appointment. It’s important to find a treatment that works for you!

Learning to advocate for yourself during medical appointments takes practice but the end result is worth it! You deserve to be heard and receive the best treatment for your health!