If we lived in a perfect world, there would be no obstacle to the health care you need. Unfortunately there are always barriers. You could be restricted by your insurance. Or you are being discriminated against because of your race, age, sexuality or gender.
Nowhere is this truer than with intimate health problems.
One of the weapons in your arsenal against the nightmare of seeking medical care is to represent yourself. Self-advocate means Speak for yourself, make your own decisions about your care, learn how to get information so you can fully understand everything, and find people to support you.
Of course, this can feel easier said than done. Especially if you are ashamed or panicked about your medical concerns. Here are some tips on how you can advocate for better medical care.
Before the appointment
Prepare for your visit
Self-advocate care also starts with non-urgent concerns. It'll make it a lot less overwhelming in more serious situations!
A good habit when you need to see a doctor is to prepare. Make a list of the topics you want to cover at the appointment and think of questions that you want answered.
If you have a specific complaint, try to remember when it started, what you've tried, what makes it better or worse, and what symptoms you are experiencing.
There are plenty of apps out there that can help you track your symptoms from endometriosis to psoriasis!
It might be silly to try to bring up multiple issues in one appointment, but it can help your doctor get a better overall picture of what you're going through. There may also be connections that you don't see.
For example, did you know that restless leg syndrome can be correlated with iron deficiency?
Just make sure the person booking your appointment knows that you want to cover multiple topics so that they can block the time!
Research, research, research! If you have a really specific health problem, it is important that you do your own research. And you can find research from many different reputable places. Yes, you may be able to find a community of other people who are experiencing similar issues on a Facebook group, but misinformation is rife online.
Pity is great, but always take the medical information people give you with a grain of salt and see if you can find it backed by a trusted source like The Mayo Clinic.
Fortunately, since the days of travel medicine, many false health claims and remedies have been passed around and recycled. So someone has probably written an article exposing whatever the hot "magic bullet" of the moment is.
Unfortunately, there are some medical professionals who roll their eyes or disapprove of the research done by their patients. And while it's true that you don't have a medical degree, specializations take a lot of time and constant research to stay up to date.
Your GP may not have the most up-to-date information. So if you can tell the Mayo Clinic wrote about X, you can take yourself seriously.
Discover your options …
If you are looking for a specialist because you feel you know your complaint or if you are referred by your GP, do your research.
Doctor's offices may have reviews online (although they may not be as extensive as the reviews of this new smoothie place on the block) so it's well worth checking out.
What many don't realize is that you can even switch the doctor you were referred to. When a specialist needs a referral, as does your GP. And if you try a specialist but experience something you don't like, you can ask the referring doctor for a new one.
Your health – and your wellbeing – come first!
… and ask for recommendations
It's great to research medical clinics that specialize in intimate health needs like endometriosis. But what about the things that people don't advertise that really make a difference in your care?
It's things like doctors who won't show you your weight while taking it unless asked what makes a big difference for people struggling with eating disorders. Or receptionists who all ask for their pronouns. Even “inviting” clinics can let you down by making heteronormative assumptions or by not being informed.
Contact your community for advice. You can ask or search on social media and check out sub-Reddits for your region. Or just ask your friends!
Everyone has had good and bad experiences at the doctor. When it comes to working for better care, we should turn our backs on each other!
After your appointment
We've all been in situations where we've been with a doctor we don't like. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are getting the proper care.
Bring someone with you
A friend or parent can be a great support person when seeking care. But not all of us have someone in our life who can help us. In this case you can a Patient advocate.
They are trained professionals (or volunteers) who come on appointments and help ensure you get the quality of health care you deserve.
You can act as a translator or specialize in topics like trans health or women's health.
Be confident and ask questions
Easier said than done again! However, assertiveness doesn't mean being aggressive. All you need to do is remember to clearly state your goal for the visit (e.g., get relief for a specific symptom or get answers about a problem) and give them the facts.
Read the notes you took before the visit and don't downplay how serious they are. Be sure to explain how this will affect your life. If you suffer from vaginal dryness don't be afraid to say that it is affecting your romantic relationship – it is an important part of your life!
Ask questions! If you don't understand something they said, or if you've made a decision to use one drug over another, it's 100% okay to ask why. This brings us to another important recommendation to advocate better medical care.
Take notes … and request a copy of them
If you take notes during your appointment, you can research and get second opinions later. Ask the doctor to write down any relevant notes for you so that you can get a copy. This includes the next steps when you have a diagnosis or copies of test or scan results.
Remember, your health is worth it
Seeking care is stressful. But stress is not good for your health either! Hopefully, if you remember these tips, you can use the tool of self-advocacy to ensure better medical care. Good luck!
Lane Baumeister is an international Canadian writer with years of experience creating educational and entertaining articles dealing with intimate health and sexual wellbeing. When she's not into menstruation, she devotes herself to extremely good food and equally bad movies.