Senior Health: Be Your Own Best Advocate

When it comes to your health, often you are your best advocate. Below are tips on how to advocate for yourself more effectively.

  1. Ask questions. Dr. David Harrison, a staff physician at Mass General Hospital and medical director at Best Doctors Inc., suggests asking anything and everything you want to know. Even ask what else your illness might be, rather than the first diagnosis offered, he said. Stephanie Payne, an RN for 30 years with special interest in home health and hospice agrees: “Don’t let the doctor leave until all questions are addressed.” She suggests writing down any questions you have before your visit, so that you’ll remember to ask them.
  2. Get a second opinion. Dr. Harrison said you should show up at the visit with the second doctor without necessarily acquainting the second physician with the previous diagnosis. Tell the doctor what your symptoms are and let the doctor make a determination as to what your illness is.
  3. Know your family medical history, and share it with your doctor. Dr. Harrison believes this will be a valuable tool in aiding your doctor in discovering what is wrong with you. He recommends “My Family Health Portrait” at familyhistory.hhs.gov, an online tool from the U.S. Surgeon General that will allow you to track your family medical history to begin your record.
  4. Take someone with you to doctor’s visits. Because it can be difficult to focus while worrying about what the doctor is saying, bring someone along to help you remember (or even take notes on) what the doctor says, both Dr. Harrison and Payne recommend.
  5. Have your pathology re-checked. “If you had a biopsy and your diagnosis is based on your pathology report, try to get it reviewed again. Pathology is incorrectly interpreted more often than commonly thought,” said Dr. Harrison. And “Ask for copies of lab results if allowed. (sometimes you have to sign for them or pay for copies, but they are yours!),” Payne said. Then ask that those results be gone over with you by a qualified medical professional.
  6. Research. When you visit your doctor, “Be prepared, do research on your illness so you know what your doctor is speaking about, i.e. change your diet, get labs,” said Payne.

Following these tips may help you feel more empowered and in control the next time you visit the doctor. After all, when it comes to your health, aren’t you the one with the most at stake?

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About Drema Drudge

Drema Drudge received her MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University and has had her fiction most recently published in The Louisville Review, Mused, ATG, Mother Earth News, and Penumbra. She is a frequent contributor to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Drema is married to musician Barry Drudge. They have two grown children, Mia and Zack. Feel free to visit Drema's website where she explores her passion for writing about art at dremadrudge.com.

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