When it comes to their health, many women believe that they aren’t taken as seriously as men. Studies prove that unintentional gender bias does exist: When women complain about the same symptoms as men, they receive different treatments, leading to less desirable outcomes. How can this change? Here are some ways that women can advocate for themselves.
Summit Health’s Family Medicine physician, Leslie Brott MD, FAAFP, says the first step in advocating for yourself is to be assertive. “You want to clearly articulate your appointment goals, detail any symptoms, address any concerns, and ask any and all questions you may have,” she says. “To do that, come armed with a list.”
She also suggests you bring your written family history and list of medications and surgeries so you don’t have to recall them from memory on the spot.
Additionally, she recommends that you try to think about some of the visit goals you have ahead of time. Goals may range from simply establishing new care to discussing appropriate screenings or talking about increased anxiety. Even if the doctor does not specifically ask you about these topics, if something is on your list, you should bring it up. “Being an active participant during the visit is so important,” says Dr. Brott. “I find it very helpful when patients say things like, ‘I want to make sure my mammogram is up to date.’ Then, the onus is on me to respond to that.”
Speak Up and Have Those Difficult Conversations
Women often feel intimidated by so-called expert opinions during an appointment. “Make sure you’re comfortable with all that happens in the office during an appointment,” says Dr. Brott. This includes things like when, how, and with whom a pelvic exam is performed. Another topic women find difficult to discuss is their sex life, but sex is important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for many people, and it is an area that has a positive impact upon well-being. “It is hugely beneficial to a patient when such a conversation can be comfortably had,” says Dr. Brott “Remember, doctors are human too.”
In addition to the taboo topic of sex, as women get older, they may face other issues that are difficult to bring up. But you shouldn’t feel embarrassed! Doctors should be focused on ensuring you feel well at all ages. Your provider or the staff may ask you questions about your emotional well-being, physical activity, risk of falling, bladder health, vision, and hearing – key questions for disease and injury prevention. You should feel comfortable brining any of these issues up, even if you are not asked about them. Your provider is there to support you.
Additionally, if you have any concerns about the affordability of your medications or treatments, please ask your provider for help. In addition to doctors, pharmacists and social workers may be able to set you up with cost-effective ways to get your medication or even connect you with community resources.
Dr. Brott says, “If you leave an office feeling unheard, disrespected, rushed, or confused, that is a sign that you may not be getting the best treatment. If you are at all uncomfortable, it is important to voice your concerns to the doctor or office staff.”
Find the Right Match
Dr. Brott adds that it’s also perfectly okay to shop around for a new physician or even change to a different one within the same medical group. Women often hesitate or pause to consider how their provider might feel if they make a switch, but they must put their health goals first, and a health care provider who truly cares about the patient will not take it personally. Switching may be the healthiest move to make. “If it wasn’t the best fit, have that conversation with someone else,” she advises. “It’s like dating. We all have different personalities. Certain dynamics are better with different providers. But everyone wins when their needs are heard.”
Changing doctors can be a challenging process, but with Summit Health, you don’t have to wait for the transfer of medical records to see someone else. You can simply go to another physician within the group, and we can access the central system, picking up where the other provider left off.
Ensure Coordination of Care
Communication between different doctors and specialist is an important way to get the most effective care. Your primary care physician should be talking to any specialists you see to ensure everyone is on the same page. This can improve safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of care and is a hallmark of both Summit Health.
During your visit, it’s perfectly fine, and even encouraged, to take notes in order to recall the specifics later. “Also, don’t be afraid to ask for a summary of treatment if one isn’t handed or sent to you,” Dr. Brott says.
“Tell the doctor if there is something that is making you anxious, including anticipated pain or discomfort during a pelvic exam or gynecologic procedure or confusion about a diagnosis or treatment plan,” she adds.
To that end, feel free to ask for resources where you can learn more about your diagnoses and treatments so that you don’t have to use search engines that may lead you astray. Also get second opinions, especially when it’s a difficult diagnosis. Physicians actually expect you to confirm it by seeing someone else.
Be Your Own Health Care Hero
Knowing how to advocate for your health is critical, but it is especially important for women. So listen to your body, find doctors who are right for you, take notes, speak up, work to fully understand your treatment plans, and get those second opinions.