Martine Ehrenclou, M.A., is a patient advocate and award-winning author of The Take-Charge Patient. Learn more about Martine and her work at thetakechargepatient.com.
Enlisting a loved one to be your advocate if you’re a patient in the hospital is almost common knowledge. But you might be tentative about asking for help if you’re simply going to the doctor for an office visit.
It’s anxiety-provoking to see a doctor or nurse about a medical condition or illness, and that anxiety can interfere with cognitive function, namely your memory. As you greet your doctor, you dressed in a white, baring gown and nervous, your questions about your diagnosis or treatment plan can easily disappear until you’ve hit the parking lot after your office visit.
I’m not suggesting you ask a loved one to accompany you every time you have the flu or a simple urinary tract infection. But I am suggesting that if you’re seeing different doctors, if you have a serious or chronic condition/illness, or if you aren’t feeling well enough to be on your toes with important questions and medical concerns, then you should ask a good friend or family member to go along with you.
Doctor’s offices aren’t designed for patients, and they are uncomfortable to be in. Medical information, conveyed by your provider, can be complex. If you’re seeing more than one physician, managing all the medical information can be tough. Grab a family member or good friend to go with you. They can sit with you in the exam room or simply stay in the waiting room.
What do you look for in an advocate? They don't need to be medically savvy—just able to take notes and be organized, detail oriented, and willing to speak up and ask questions in a polite manner.
What your advocate can do for you
- Help you prepare for your medical appointment, such as helping you create a list of questions for your doctor, your top three medical concerns, and a current list of medications and dosages.
- Make sure you have necessary copies of test results that are pertinent to your appointment.
- Take notes on the conversation between you and your doctor or take notes on what you convey immediately after your appointment. Believe me, you will not remember everything the physician has said. It’s handy to have it recorded to refer to later.
- Catch medical mistakes that could adversely affect your health.
- Act as your second set of eyes and ears for your care, and monitor the details to increase patient safety.
Just having someone with you in a doctor’s office can decrease your anxiety and help you feel more confident to ask questions. Someone at your side is a source of support so you can actively participate in your care.