How to Ensure You Get the Health Care You Deserve

**By Jane Dunham, MD**

While your health care team does everything in their power to provide appropriate care, the fact is, nobody knows your body better than you. Therefore, it’s important to be a partner in your medical care: speak up about your needs, concerns, and desires, particularly if something feels off or you have lingering questions.

We know that seeking health care (let alone playing an active role in it) can sometimes feel intimidating, especially if you’re not quite sure about the specifics of your condition. Below, we’ve outlined some tips to help empower you to get the health care you deserve, on your terms.

Educate yourself on your condition or diagnosis

Patients equipped with the proper information regarding their diagnosis may have an easier time playing a role in the care they receive. If you’ve received a diagnosis that’s new territory for you, we encourage you to read about it and ask questions as they arise. Ask your doctor if they can point you toward resources that will help you understand your diagnosis and what to expect. The same goes for medications you are prescribed: Know what you are taking and why you are taking it. Keep an updated medication list with you for reference and be sure this includes any over-the-counter medications or supplements that you take. This information can help to avoid harmful interactions with food or other medications that you may be prescribed.

Ask questions about your care plan

It’s well within your rights as a patient to fully understand any care being prescribed to you. Having a clear understanding of the details of your care plan helps you ask informed questions, aids your care team in setting goals that are realistic and achievable, and helps you provide specific feedback to your care team about how things are going. If you’ve asked a question and still don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask again. Ask for a written copy of your care plan whenever possible so that you can refer to it as needed.

Consider asking a friend or family member to be your advocate

You don’t have to manage your health care alone. Ask a trusted friend or family member to assume the role of your advocate. Having an advocate can provide incredible support, particularly if you are anxious about your diagnosis or are experiencing any sort of issue that might make it difficult to advocate for yourself. Advocates can attend appointments to help ensure that you get all the information you need and make certain that you don’t forget any questions or important areas to address. It’s not uncommon to forget something when you feel nervous or anxious, and an advocate can help ensure you’re receiving the best care possible.

Participate in every decision regarding your health care

Of course, your medical professional is considered the expert, but YOU are the expert on yourself. If your provider suggests a course of treatment you don’t feel comfortable with, let them know and inquire about other potential treatment options. If something doesn’t feel right to you, we encourage you to speak up rather than just going along with things and feeling uneasy or unsure.

Remember, you are the most important person when it comes to your health. The right health care professionals understand this and will help in any way they can to ease your concerns and ensure your experience is positive. Never be afraid to ask questions. Advocate for yourself and always speak up to receive the health care you deserve.


Jane Dunham, MD is board-certified in internal medicine. She practices at Virginia Mason Medical Center and specializes in preventive medicine and primary care.

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