Becoming An Advocate for Your Own Health in the Doctor's Office

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • While advancing through the changes related to menopause, some women may have difficulty finding words to describe the changes that they are are undergoing. And that “lack of voice” can prove to be problematic in not only finding a solution that can ease any discomfort, but also in protecting a woman’s overall health.

    Why do middle-age women have such difficult time talking about these issues? reported on a survey of middle-age women who experienced painful intercourse but who had not discussed the issue with their health care professional. Thirty-nine percent of the respondents didn’t bring this subject up due to embarrassment. Twenty-six percent were silent because they did not think that the doctor could provide any help. And 47 percent of the respondents cited social taboos against discussing menopausal symptoms such as vulvar and vaginal dryness or painful intercourse.

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    So how can we better express what’s going on with our body to our doctors? Here are some suggestions:

    Identify any symptoms prior to your appointment. In the article on, Dr. Michael Krychman, executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine, recommended writing down your symptoms or trying an online assessor so you can have your concerns in hand when you meet with your doctor. Be sure to prioritize any questions or concerns that you want to address in case you have limited time with your doctor.

    Do a little research beforehand to identify what the doctor may ask. For instance, the Mayo Clinic’s website does a great job of discussing various health issues and includes a list of potential questions that doctors may ask. I've shared an example here. In addition, the Mayo Clinic site also describes possible tests that your doctor may request so you can be prepared to seek information about these assessments.

    Set up another appointment if you don’t get to everything. Doctors keep a pretty packed schedule, so you may not be able to get to all of your concerns. If you aren't able to talk about some pressing issues, don't be shy about making another appointment.

    Find ways to communicate. If talking with your doctor stresses you out, find a way to let him or her know your concerns, said Dr. Krychman. I’d suggest you try to talk to the nurse about your concerns or writing a letter prior to the appointment.

    Have a goal of becoming your own advocate. I really appreciate and am trying to take to heart the advice given by Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge in their book, “The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause.” “You start to become a ‘no-nonsense’ patient when you realize that the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to increase your health literacy. What exactly does this mean?” the authors wrote. “Well, first, it means getting comfortable and confident enough to read medical information and learn for yourself what has been proven to be safe or helpful and what hasn’t. It means becoming well-versed in your options, including the possibility of doing or taking nothing at all. It means learning to be assertive in doctor’s visits, asking good questions, and making the most of your time with medical professionals. Most of all, it means when you know that you are healthy, having confidence and the wisdom to reach out for solid resources on the Internet or in the print media, as well as knowing when to go to the doctor’s office when you aren’t.”

  • Going to the doctor’s appointment can be a stressful time. Therefore, thinking about any health issues that you face and doing the advance research is really important. But it’s even more important to be able to have a forthright and honest discussion with your doctor about your health and all options. Let’s take the advice of Ms. Seaman and Ms. Eldridge – let’s all become “no-nonsense” patients!

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Published On: December 21, 2010