The ABCs of Patient Advocacy

Navigating your way through the current medical system may feel daunting and difficult – What questions do you ask? What treatment do you choose? When do you ask for a second opinion?

Learning how to be a strong advocate for yourself and your loved ones will provide you with the confidence and knowledge you need to ensure that you are receiving the best medical care and support. Being a successful advocate will allow you to play an active and productive role to promote the improved health and well being for yourself and your loved ones.

In our society, doctors are often seen as all-knowing authorities that are not questioned or challenged.  In fact, until the later half of the 20th century, the medical system functioned as a paternalistic system – those in authority made decisions without including the ‘subordinate’ in the process.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that patient informed consent was firmly established throughout the world.  Medicine has slowly transitioned from a system of paternalism to one based on patient autonomy.  However, this autonomy is often not exercised by the patient nor recognized by the physician.

At AFFIRMATIVhealth, we want you to know that your voice is important in your healthcare decisions and you can learn to use your voice to play an active role in your care. When advocating for your self or your loved ones, the following ABCs of patient advocacy may be helpful:

  1. Ask questions – Prior to going to a doctor’s appointment, make a list of questions in order of importance. At the beginning of the appointment, provide the list to your physician so that they are aware of your goals for the visit. While there may not be enough time to answer all of your questions in one visit, you can keep a running list of questions to bring to future appointments.
  2. Document symptoms – Keep a diary or list of any and all symptoms you have including those that may be a side effect of new medications. This will help your physician determine if the benefits of a treatment outweigh the side effects and if a medication change is needed.
  3. Form a relationship with your physician – Your doctor is a person too and is like many other people you know and care about. Getting to know them and allowing them to get to know you is critical to having a good working relationship. This positive relationship will also make visits more enjoyable and more productive.
  4. Be an “expert” – Learn as much as you can about your illness so that you can go into a doctor’s visit prepared with questions. Feel free to enlist your doctor to explain things that you don’t understand, join advocacy or support groups to meet other people going through a similar experience, and search on the internet for programs like RE:mind to learn and submit questions. The more you ask, the more you know and the more you can take an active role in the care that you receive.
  5. Change can be good – If you are not happy with your current healthcare providers, it is within your rights to request a second opinion or even to change to a new physician or provider. Those of us who work in healthcare understand that not all personalities work well together and that a difficult diagnosis may be hard to comprehend.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a second or third or fourth opinion.  Understanding your options is crucial to a feel confident about your care and to make informed decisions.

Patient advocacy is something you can learn to do and do effectively.  Practice makes perfect and slowly incorporating these tips will make advocacy easier over time.  For more information about advocating for yourself or your loved one or about the options available for the prevention and treatment of cognitive decline, visit

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