Taking responsibility for your health is an empowering experience. It means that you gain control of your wellbeing, and it gives you the power to make the best personal decisions about your own body. However, that’s not to say that it’s always easy to express your opinions and get the outcomes you want or need from professional medical services.
It remains a disturbing and frustrating fact that women’s healthcare concerns are not always taken seriously by their doctors. There has been a long-held culture of gender health bias, and women tend to have to wait longer for diagnoses or are less likely to receive the medication they need due to a misguided and misogynistic belief that their symptoms are psychosomatic. This can be exacerbated if you are in racially or economically marginalized groups. Often, the only way to get the treatment and attention that can improve or even save your life is to be your own best advocate.
We’re going to take a closer look at personal health advocacy. Why should it form a part of your ongoing wellness plan, and what strategies should you put in place to make it effective?
Why It’s So Vital
We live in a society that, for better or worse, places medical experts as the only trustworthy arbiters of patients’ health. Certainly, it’s important to acknowledge their expertise — they have dedicated their lives to understanding medical issues. However, it’s equally important to note that the operational understanding of conditions, best treatments, and technological advances is constantly changing and developing. Indeed, it is increasingly becoming recognized that many treatments and studies have historically been based on male data, which can make them even less relevant for women’s health and wellbeing. These medical professionals are human, and even with the best will in the world, they won’t know everything. Indeed, aspects of a health condition will often be presented through the context of your subjective experience; if doctors fail to accept these symptoms, then they may be delaying the time-sensitive treatment you need.
You also have to understand that, as noted by legal research, misdiagnosis is common. This doesn’t mean that your healthcare professional is necessarily incompetent — there are various reasons this can occur, from missed symptoms to outdated medical knowledge. They may also be assessing your health as a woman on diagnostic guides that were built primarily on men’s symptomatic data — women with autism are often misdiagnosed as having anxiety or depression for this reason. But if your doctor ignores your personal feelings and continues to prescribe the wrong treatment, the outcome can still be damaging to your wellbeing.
The culture you live within can make it easy for you to ignore your own experiences of your health, in favor of a doctor’s opinions. However, if your doctor treats you in a dictatorial fashion, rather than as a collaborator in your medical treatment, you may not be getting the best or most appropriate care.
Your most powerful tool in being an advocate for your healthcare is education. At the most basic level, this provides you with a solid basis upon which to make any appeals to the medical professionals with whom you collaborate in diagnosis and treatment. It also means that you can stay up-to-date on the current status of medical procedures and research. A prime example of this is the rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs and bacteria. The more these drugs are used, the more bacteria can develop a resistance to them. Knowing the risks and what types of bacteria are becoming resistant empowers you to communicate more confidently with your doctor about appropriate treatments and prevention.
That doesn’t mean to say that you should be hopping onto WebMD and self-diagnosing. Rather, you must take your time to get your medical information from credible sources. When you are looking into your healthcare concerns and symptoms or if you are researching potential treatments for your condition, take care to also look into who is providing this information. Not just what medical expertise and formal qualifications they have. Review whether they have specific experience in women’s health matters. Look into the potential incentives they have for providing certain information — are they sponsored by certain drug manufacturers, or do they have commercial relationships with test providers? Forming your own understanding of these matters requires that you put in the work, and you must also consider your own biases.
You should certainly involve your medical provider in these explorations, too. If you find the right doctor, they are likely to encourage your self-advocating approach — educating yourself shows that you are savvy, responsible, and willing to engage. Be open with them about your reasons for your research, and what you have found. One of the key ways that you can help to overcome the biases in women’s health and diagnosis is by talking openly about them with doctors. If their opinion differs from yours, ask them to explain their points further, and even politely request they direct you to supporting information that you can review.
As a patient, it is often assumed that you should have limited control over the direction of your care. You’re allowed to have responsibility for changing your lifestyle habits, or paying extra for certain services — but everything else you are expected to entrust to medical professionals and a network of strangers who have business interests in your care. In truth, you have more control over your care than the industry would have you believe.
Gaining multiple opinions on your diagnosis is completely within your rights as a patient. Just because you have an established patient with a medical professional, or have been referred by your insurer, this doesn’t mean that you have to accept their opinion if you disagree or feel that they are missing something. Speaking to a female doctor as a second opinion is not always a guarantee that they’ll be more receptive to your concerns, but they may have a better sense of the context of your experiences. Indeed, the rise of technological advancements means that many patients can gain second or third opinions and advice via telemedicine calls, rather than taking time out of their day for in-person appointments. Some doctors and specialists have taken to providing this at flat price rates to out-of-network patients to ensure care isn’t dictated by the insurance system.
You can also take control of your medical records. This is vital information that outlines your medical history, tests that have been undertaken, and prior diagnoses. It is not data that can only be interpreted by medical professionals. Having these in your possession allows you to review what care you’ve been provided and how assessments have been approached so that you can undertake your own research on solutions and provide them to other medical professionals for advice.
It is a sad truth that sometimes to get the healthcare you deserve, you have to take matters into your own hands. That said, educating yourself and taking control of your treatment can be an empowering experience. Where possible, aim for the best of both worlds — be your own health advocate in collaboration with a trusted medical professional to gain the most suitable care for your own healthcare concerns.