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5 Action Items for Becoming Your Own Health Advocate

Although achieving good health is a challenge on its own, there are barriers to accessing healthcare services and reaching wellness. Having a supportive healthcare team on your side is a major win, but even if you aren't close with your doctor, there are ways to advocate for yourself. These tips from guest author, Claire Wentz, will help empower you to become your own advocate.

Choose a Healthcare Professional That Fits You

Thanks to the complications of insurance, finding the right doctor can be challenging. Yet taking the time to ask the right questions and find someone who respects and values you as a patient (and person) is worth the effort. While it may not be possible to interview doctors before going in for a visit, you always have the option to change providers. Most insurance plans have a set process for referrals, including network limitations, so make sure you understand the protocol when asking for a second opinion.

Though a certain process may apply when requesting a referral, Yale Medicine confirms that second opinions are beneficial in many cases. A referral may even change the course of your treatment when it comes to a cancer diagnosis or surgery recommendation.

Keep Detailed Records (and Keep Them on Hand)

Though your healthcare provider maintains your medical records, it can be difficult to access them. One solution is to maintain copies of important healthcare documents in either a digital or print format (or both).

Having up-to-date records also ensures you can submit whatever paperwork your doctor may ask for before a visit. Plus, it's possible for records to be damaged or go missing; healthcare systems can also discard records after five or ten years, depending on the laws and guidelines.

Retaining copies help you advocate for yourself, even if your care team might be missing pieces. One easy way to keep digital records is by using a tool to consolidate the necessary information. Just extract the pages you want, then create a new PDF.

Make Small Changes (That Add Up to Better Health)

A medical diagnosis might mean you need medication or specific therapy for wellness. Yet most physicians will also recommend that their patients get regular exercise and eat healthy — the cornerstones of at-home wellness. Healthy habits can also prevent chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, depression, heart disease, and even cancer. Living a healthier lifestyle doesn't require a lot of time or effort, either. For example, the age-old advice to take the stars versus the elevator, or parking a longer distance from the grocery store when shopping, can help you fit more physical activity into your day.

There are plenty of other ways to live a healthier lifestyle that won't disrupt daily living. For example, drinking more water is a simple way to feel better and support overall wellness.

Do Some Research (and Trust Your Body)

Medical professionals are experts, but they aren't living inside your body. One way to be a strong advocate for yourself involves researching your condition, even if that involves questioning a diagnosis.

Even before the diagnostic stage, advocating for yourself may include continuing to speak up, even if a medical professional disagrees with you. The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine notes that misdiagnosis, or delayed diagnosis, is unfortunately common. Continuing to ask questions and request multiple opinions can make all the difference in obtaining timely treatment.

Review Medical Bills (and Records) Closely

For most healthcare services, you will receive an itemized bill, even if your insurance pays most or all of it. Even if your insurance covers everything, reviewing the itemized statement may reveal errors that could impact your coverage.

Modern Healthcare reports that up to 80 percent of medical bills contain errors; coding mistakes are overwhelmingly common, but other parts of the billing process can go wrong, too.

Review your bill and research anything that seems amiss. For example, you can double-check dosing amounts for medications you were given or search for the codes listed for your treatment.

When you're not a medical expert, it can be hard to advocate for yourself during diagnosis or treatment. With these strategies, you'll be more informed and better equipped to tackle the challenges on your journey toward improved health.

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