You may not have an M.D. after your name, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up about your health. Just ask Serena Williams. When she had serious post-delivery complications last year, a CT-scan — requested by Williams herself — saved the tennis star’s life.
The day after having her baby, Williams fell short of breath. Because she had experience with pulmonary embolism, she asked her care team to run the scan to see if any clots had settled in her lungs. At first, they dismissed her request, she told Vogue in a January 2018 cover story. But she pressed harder. When they finally did the scan, it indeed showed blood clots, confirming her self-diagnosis in a classic case of I-told-you-so.
How to Speak Up About Your Health
Williams’ close call shows the importance of advocating for yourself in every health care setting. After all, nobody knows your body better than you do, said Eileen Hession Laband, a manager for Patient and Family-Centered Care at Beverly Hospital.
“We [as practitioners] know the medical and nursing care, but you know when something’s not right,” said Laband, who heads up the hospital’s patient advocacy program. “If you have a gut feeling that something’s not right, you should pursue it.”
That said, there’s a difference between having a candid dialogue with your doctor and fearing the worst after a chain reaction of Google searches. Here’s how to speak up about your health in a way that balances your doctor’s experience with your own.
1. Ask Questions
Health care can be complex, so if you ever need clarity about a procedure or have a concern about a negative experience, speak up.
“Often, patients are reluctant to complain while they’re in a hospital bed, and particularly to the staff who are taking care of them,” Laband noted. “We don’t want people to wait until they go home to say they didn’t feel like they were well-informed.”
2. Dialogue With Your Doctor
Just because you didn’t go to medical school doesn’t mean that you should let the doctor do all the talking. Take charge of your health care by voicing how you feel, asking questions and talking about your options.
“Having respectful communication on both sides is critical to patient engagement and to patients feeling comfortable about being involved in their health care decisions,” said Laband. “There has to be a comfort level and trust between the two sides.”
3. Research Credible Sources
Online research can create a dangerous spiral of misinformation, but that’s not to say you should never use a search engine. Just be cautious.
“If people are going to go to the internet, they should go to reputable sites,” Laband recommended. “There’s a lot of information out there that may or may not be accurate.”
A few helpful sites include the National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Heart Association (AHA) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Crowdsourced sites like Wikipedia are less reliable. If you find an article or topic that you’d like to discuss with your doctor, make sure to print it out and bring it with you to your appointment so the provider can see the source.
Be Your Own Advocate
Above all, remember that nobody knows how you feel better than you do. That doesn’t mean that you should ask for diagnostic tests left and right against your doctor’s orders, but don’t be afraid to speak up when something seems out of place.
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