How to Advocate for Yourself When Communicating With Healthcare Professionals

If you are the past victim of a misdiagnosis or worry that healthcare professionals do not always have your best interests at heart, you need to be informed about your rights.

This article explains how you can practice self-advocacy when talking to healthcare professionals.

Misdiagnosis Can Be Common

Unfortunately, misdiagnosis is more common than you might think. It can happen due to a healthcare professional ordering the wrong tests, missing symptoms, or outdated medical knowledge. In fact, reports that 12 million people face diagnosis errors each year, and up to 80,000 people die from these complications.

Many of these errors can result in a malpractice lawsuit or wrongful death claim.

The most common issues that are frequently misdiagnosed are:

  • Infections (especially meningitis)
  • Strokes
  • Diseases of the blood vessels (such as Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT))
  • Severe blood clotting disorders
  • Blood infections (such as sepsis)
  • Cancer (including lung, breast, prostate, and skin cancers)
  • Heart attacks

Bias Among Healthcare Workers and Companies

There can also be prejudice in the healthcare world that leads to some people receiving better care than others. An underlying factor in a misdiagnosis can be:

  • Doctors not having enough time to be accurate
  • More senior staff being assigned to specific patients
  • Doctors and nurses making assumptions based on age, gender identity, weight, socioeconomic status, nation of origin, and other factors.

Bias is also widespread for chronic pain patients, who may ask for pain medications or switch doctors when they cannot get the help they need. These factors can lead to a denial of necessary pain management medications.

While these obstacles are overwhelming, there are steps you can take to avoid being misdiagnosed and take control of your health.

Step 1: Write Down Your Concerns and Keep Records

To keep your symptoms and concerns organized and top of mind, it is a good idea to write down anything you want to address with the doctor. This will help you to make the most out of your doctor’s appointment, which might be short if the doctor is busy.

Exact symptoms, pain, dates, past treatments, medication and amounts, and concerns are all useful information to give your doctor a fast and accurate look at what you are experiencing.

It is also smart to keep a copy of your records, including who you see and when, x-rays, test results, and treatments. If you switch clinics, these items do not always transfer smoothly.

Step 2: Ask As Many Questions As You Want

You should feel empowered to ask any and all questions you have. You are the one paying for this appointment and the doctor is there to answer them — it’s their job.

Be sure to ask questions about:

  • The predicted outcome of treatments
  • Long-term effects of medication or surgeries
  • Chances of illness or injury returning
  • Interactions of different prescriptions
  • How past injuries and illness could be affecting you today
  • Doing a procedure now vs. waiting (for your condition to improve or insurance deductibles)
  • Anything you can do on your own to improve your condition
  • What to expect and all side effects
  • When you will get test results back
  • Estimated costs for various treatments
  • Getting a second opinion

Step 3: Emphasize Your Condition

Some patients tend to shrug off their condition, downplay their pain, or lie. This can be due to shame, acting “tough,” or just hoping that nothing is wrong. Downplaying or hiding illness and injury can also be a part of your culture, gender identity, or socioeconomic status.

It is essential to be completely open and honest with your doctor, so that they understand how to best treat you and avoid mistakes.

Step 4: Stay Focused On Your Condition

Doctors can often suggest treatments that have no relation to your condition. An example of this is prescribing weight loss measures when you have the flu. While they might have a valid reason to suggest other health measures, it is not the reason you are seeing them that day.

Keep your doctor focused on the condition you came in with. Additionally, it is perfectly okay to refuse treatment, tests, or medication that they suggest.

Step 5: Research Treatments and Medication (and Your Doctor)

You should research all treatments and medications for your condition. This can help you come up with questions to ask the doctor. You need to explore viable, authoritative resources and not depend on blogs, personal stories from others, or generic studies.

It is also key to talk to your insurance and:

  • Understand what your insurance company will and will not cover
  • Be sure to get pre-authorization for procedures
  • Understand if a generic medication truly is the same as a branded medication

Remember: Insurance companies exist to make money — not necessarily ensure you get the best care.

Review all your insurance bills for errors in billing and diagnosis. This can save you money in the long run and impact future care (such as a doctor not prescribing you a needed treatment or medication because it looks like you just had it).

It is also recommended to research your doctor before you choose one or after you see them. They may have specialties only in certain illnesses or may have bad reviews online.

Step 6: Get a Second Opinion

Whether your doctor recommends it or not, you always have the right to get a second opinion. This is especially important for medical diagnoses and new treatments.

Empower yourself to get as many opinions as you need to feel comfortable with the diagnosis. This is a vital step to avoid misdiagnosis.

Step 7: Take Action If You Suspect Misdiagnosis

If you think you, your children, or a loved one have been misdiagnosed, contact a personal injury lawyer first to discuss your case in depth.

Misdiagnosis is a common aspect of medical malpractice, and the right attorney can directly target your concerns. Taking these steps can help you feel more comfortable with your diagnosis and help you understand when there might be a problem.

Speak to an Experienced Health Law Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified health lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local health attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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