Why Becoming Your Own Health Advocate Can Save Your Money and Your Life
As a pharmacist, I’ve seen many patients from all ages and walks of life—rural communities, large metropolitan areas, wealthy, low-income, Spanish-speaking, non-English speaking, multi-racial, multi-cultural—you name it. And while I’d noticed some differences between these groups, one day I realized that there was one thing that united them all: Many of these people – patients—were reluctant or even afraid to take charge of their health care or speak up for themselves. Folks in the health care industry call it “health advocacy” or “being an advocate for your care”. I was stunned to find out how many people are actually afraid to ask their doctors, insurance companies, or people working in the health care system questions to clear up confusion– let alone for help.
I quickly began to see myself as an advocate for my patients, giving a voice to those who would otherwise remain silent and whose care – not to mention quality of life—might be at risk if nobody spoke up for them.
So, what exactly do I mean by advocacy? Advocacy can take on many meanings depending on the situation, but more than anything, it starts with getting involved in your care. And doing so has many benefits:
Advocacy improves your health because asking questions can sometimes help your medical team identify problems that may not have been so obvious. Don’t worry about whether you’re asking the right questions— the main thing is that you get the conversation started. If something doesn’t feel right, just ask.
It can help avoid errors and catch mistakes. Despite best efforts, sometimes information may get lost in translation or be left out unintentionally— whether or not you have electronic records (technology can make mistakes, too). Speaking up is an easy way to double-check to make sure your information is correct.
It can actually save you money. That’s right. The more we learn about ourselves, our bodies, our conditions, and how they’re being treated, the more aware we become. This increased awareness makes us more likely to ask our doctors, nurses, and pharmacists questions that may lead to changing to cheaper drugs when appropriate, getting rid of unnecessary drugs you might be taking (like taking two or more similar medications), or preventing extra medical costs by finding— and treating a condition you didn’t know you had.
It empowers you and boosts your confidence. Becoming more familiar with your medications and conditions makes you feel good and like you’re on top of things—because you are! And, it doesn’t stop there—it can give you the courage to challenge yourself with taking on other goals or projects you wouldn’t have dared to touch before – such as using your new skills to help other people become more involved in their health or trying out a new hobby!
Now that you know why health advocacy is important, here are some ways to start taking charge of health:
One good way to start is by sitting down and making a list of your all your health concerns or questions. You don’t have to list every single thought that ever crossed your mind, but do try to think of the three most important things that are a concern for you. Here are few examples:
Do you think your medications are too expensive?
Are you having trouble making your co-pays?
Are you having trouble remembering to take your medications?
Do you have trouble keeping doctors’ appointments or picking up your prescriptions from the pharmacy because you live far away, don’t have a car, or have trouble walking?
Write this one down: What is the single most important thing you’d like to ask your doctor but are afraid to ask? Would you like your doctor to explain your medical condition to you in a way that’s easier for you to understand? Do you feel that one of your medications doesn’t seem to work as well is it should? Are you afraid to ask your doctor for help using your blood sugar monitor? Are you afraid to tell your doctor that you don’t take your medications all the time because you feel they are too expensive or you have trouble getting to the pharmacy to pick them up? Are you afraid to ask your doctor to send your prescriptions to a different pharmacy that’s closer to you? Many people don’t realize that you can often transfer most of your prescriptions to a different pharmacy. (Controlled substances work a little differently). Others are afraid that changing pharmacies will affect their insurance coverage, but this is not the case.
Look over your medications. Do you know what they are and why you’re taking them? Are you able to manage your medications or do you need someone to help you out?
Do you feel that you are either unable or afraid to talk to your doctor? If so, try to think of one or two people who can help you out. It could be your husband, your wife, your child, a close friend, or even a trusted neighbor. And, don’t get discouraged if you don’t have someone living nearby to help. Sometimes, insurance plans have case workers who can help route you to people who can.
Even if you have someone else become your advocate, you’ve still gotten involved by taking action to find that special person!
Remember, help is always nearby. All you have to do is raise your voice—or your hand. So go ahead, give yourself a hand. Become your advocate.