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How to Empower Yourself at the Doctor’s Office and in the Hospital

Dr. Office 3As we enter flu and cold season, seniors become particularly vulnerable to the ravages of flu, pneumonia and dehydration. POP aims here as elsewhere to empower you to take good care of your own health!!

POP recommends you can best stand up for your own health when you’re feeling weak or ill by doing the following:

1. Bring another person close to you, even a caregiver, to all your doctor visits, hopefully the same person.

2. Ask questions until you and your accompanying friend fully understand what’s being told you about your condition, it’s treatment, expected duration and possible dangers. I can assure you that by doing so, you will get better medical care, more answers you can understand and “execute,” and the important sense that your concerns and words are being heard and considered.

“Patients sometimes are a little bit fearful to ask, or think that perhaps their doctor won’t want to be challenged. But that’s not the case,” said Dr. Kristin Mascotti, quality medical officer at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, Miller Children’s and Women’s and Community Hospital Long Beach, in California. “It’s absolutely OK to ask questions, be proactive about your care and speak up when you’re not comfortable for any reason.”

3. Learn more when you go home by looking up your diagnosis and treatment options online. Nothing online needs to be your Bible but you can see other opinions and learn to get more of your questions answers by doing additional research.

When to Speak Up at a Doctor’s Office

Here’s a look at some typical situations and solutions that may require you to use self-advocacy:

  • You can’t get an appointment with the specialist you need.
  • Unfortunately, doctor shortages in some areas can cause long wait times for appointments.
  • If you have a good relationship with your family physician or the referring physician, and live in an urban environment where there aren’t shortages, ask your own referring doctor’s office for help.
  • This is especially important if your medical situation is time-sensitive, such as seeing a neurologist following a stroke or an oncologist after a diagnosis of a fast-moving cancer.

Mascotti said. “They can assist you with finding an appropriate appointment.” Some medical offices will also put you on a cancellation list, so you can get seen sooner if another patient cancels an appointment. Ask if the office has such a list.

Your doctor doesn’t appear to take your complaints about side effects or perhaps your symptoms as seriously as you feel (s)he should.

As I said in my book, “OH MY GOD! WE’RE PARENTING OUR PARENTS: How to transform this Remarkable Challenge into a Journey of Love,” when they impact you and you’re suffering, there’s no such thing as “side effects.” They are just effects!!!

Ruth Linden, founder and president of Tree of Life Health Advocates in San Francisco points out, “symptoms can be unpredictable, bodies can be disorderly and unstable.”If you’re dealing with a doctor who dismisses your concerns, Linden suggests asking what leads him or her to think that way. Asking, not in an accusatory fashion but in a human fashion, could help disarm the doctor. Linden added that “we’re not used to trying to communicate with doctors in that [questioning] way as patients.”

If you still don’t feel heard or you’ve had several challenging encounters with the same provider or office, it may be time to find a new doctor, said Linden.

You feel pressured into a treatment you don’t want. If you’re being forced to accept a treatment plan that makes you uncomfortable, Linden suggested saying, “I need to understand more about why this procedure is going to be beneficial to me.”

Things can move quickly if you’re admitted to the emergency room and you’re not fully alert. so setting up an advance medical directive can help by spelling out the type of treatment you are, or aren’t, willing to accept. “It’s so much better to do in a mindful, proactive state than when it’s a crisis,” Mascotti said. “It’s going to help the family and going to help you as a patient, and that really is one of the best forms of self-advocacy.”

You can’t get a clear explanation of when you’ll be discharged from the hospital. If you’re a hospital patient, it can be frustrating when your timeline for getting discharged is unclear. People want to understand ‘What do I need to do to get better and go home?

Mascotti suggests :

1. ask early on what needs to happen before you can get discharged.

2.write down the milestones, so you can remember them.

3. track your progress.

Ways to Get What You Need When You’re a Hospital Patient.

If you’re in a hospital that uses a communication board (often a large dry-erase board) where patients or their families can record questions: use it! Use a notebook if you don’t have access to a communal board. It’s too easy to forget those important question when your physician comes rushing in especially if there are team rounds

And if you’re in a hospital that does team rounds, ask what time the rounds happen and then have a trusted person present then. “You have that time where everyone can get on the same page collectively to participate in what’s happening and make clear shared decision-making,” Mascotti said.

If you like what you’ve read here and are interested in reading more, buy the book,

“Oh My God! We’re Parenting Our Parents: How To Transform This Remarkable Challenge Into A Journey of Love.

Parts of this blog were excerpted from Susan Johnston Taylor of Austin, Texas and Originally Posted on

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