How to be your own health advocate

Although I practice in the mental health field, I have countless experiences of my patients recounting stories to me of failed or disappointed experiences with their doctors, both in the mental health and physical health realms.

How can I be my own health advocate is a common question posed by many of my patients. Here are some tips and questions to think about:

  1. Do you know your diagnoses? Have you asked what they mean?
  2. Do you think that if you ask too many questions you are a burden to your healthcare provider? P.S. It’s not a burden, although there is always balance. Asking 20 questions a week may be overboard, but most of the time we fall on the other end of the spectrum and don’t ask enough
  3. Do you know all the options for treatment?  Do you know what your treatment will entail? yes, I am a firm believer in evidence-based treatments and I do believe they should be the first-line defense. However, I am not opposed to alternative treatments (as long as they pose no harm) and encourage patients to complement their treatments frequently. In this regard, I like to suggest centering, mindfulness activities, like yoga, to help my patients reaffirm their strategies to exist in the here-and-now.
  4. Have you gotten a second opinion on your diagnoses and suggested form of treatment?
  5. If you are getting medication, have you gotten a proper evaluation in order to receive that medication? (All too frequently I hear stories of “i told my PCP that I was sad for a few days and they prescribed me Zoloft.”)
  6. Have you educated yourself? Great resources are http://www.pubmed.com and http://www.clinicaltrials.gov
  7. Do you have your medical records organized and copied for your current provider? (it’s very very very helpful when a patient brings in copies of lab data and/or previous psychological or neuropsychological reports; it helps to give clinicians a more accurate picture of what is currently going on).
  8. Be honest (not just with a clinician, but with yourself).
  9. Your clinician is not there to judge you, they are there to help. Be open with them.
  10. Ask questions. If you do not understand something your clinician wants to know. Treatment does not work if you do not know why it is/not working.
  11. Realize that your clinician is a human too and will definitely make mistakes. It’s a collaborative and honest process on both ends, be willing to work hard and great things can be accomplished.

Author:

I am a clinical psychologist with approximately 15 years of experience assessing and treating anxiety and depressive disorders in young children, adolescents, young adults, adults and geriatric populations. I completed a 6-year predoctoral training award at the National Institute of Mental Health, and postdoctoral training at the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital. From my clinical and research experiences, I have come to see the struggles of many families deciding when to pursue professional help and feeling very lost in the process. I will address several mental health issues that will help educate and empower my readers to make better mental health decisions for themselves. Welcome to my blog! Johanna Kaplan, Ph.D. Disclaimer-This blog is not and cannot be used in replace of formal therapy. This blog is used to inform and educate and is not a form of informal or formal advice.

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