These tips will help you become your own health advocate

As unconscious biases in healthcare delivery leave women—especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds—feeling dismissed and not listened to.

Not many of us look forward to a visit to the doctor’s. From booking an appointment to that nervous waiting period at the reception, time spent at the doctor’s would hardly be considered fun.

The unconscious gender bias in healthcare

Top that up with the fact that unconscious gender biases that exist in the healthcare delivery system makes it more difficult for women to receive accurate diagnoses and treatment.

Recently, the Health Minister, Nadine Dorries alluded to this inequality in healthcare and the fact that many women do not feel listened to by medical professionals. She urged women to speak up and demand better treatment if they are unhappy with how medical staff are looking after them.

I want women to be more confident and not to take no for an answer. And if you are still in pain and if you are not being taken seriously and if your GP is not referring you on for consultant treatment then ask for it—demand it—because it is your right to do so.

This is one of the issues that the first Women’s Health Strategy would seek to address.

How to become your own health advocate

But while that is being done, what can you as an individual do on your part to become a better health advocate for yourself?

Here are some tips that healthcare practitioners would like you to take into consideration the next time you visit your doctor

  1. Have a well written and organised notes of symptoms and complaints. Make sure you write them down in a way that would help you better communicate the flow of events. But be careful not to include too much information lest you end up confused and out of time.
  2. Go along with a trusted friend or loved one who is a good listener. It is estimated that patients tend to retain only 50% of information they receive from their doctors or health professionals. Their presence could also help ease your anxiety during the appointment.
  3. Do some basic research ahead of the appointment. This is not to encourage you to frantically googling your symptoms and challenging your doctor at every turn. But it is worth having a general idea of what they are so you can better express yourself and ask relevant follow up questions if you feel you are not being listened to.
  4. Ask questions. Listen carefully to what the doctor is saying and ask questions. Remember, they are the experts and no question you ask about your health and wellbeing would be considered stupid. Also ask for medical terms to be broken down for you in lay terms. Be curious about causes, prevention and treatments.
  5. Follow up! Call or email about the result of that blood test you had last week. Remember healthcare delivery is another form of customer service.
  6. Get a second opinion if you don’t feel listened to. This is not to say you should hop from one one medical professional to the other as this could make you more confused and cause a break in the continuity of care you are entitled to.
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