INDIANAPOLIS 317-566-9600
KOKOMO 765-865-9300
BLOOMINGTON 812-566-2600



INDIANAPOLIS 317-566-9600
KOKOMO 765-865-9300
BLOOMINGTON 812-566-2600





The Ultimate 10-Step Guide to Be Your Own Health Advocate

A patient advocating for his health by asking his doctor questions.

Healthcare is daunting to many. Doctors visits can feel scary or confusing, especially when you’re facing unfamiliar health challenges. 

One way to improve the experience and results of treatment is to be your own health advocate. Advocating for your health empowers you to ask the right questions and get the best answers. 

Learn more about health advocacy, why it’s important, and our 10-step guide to advocating for your health. 

What Does it Mean to Be Your Own Health Advocate?

To be your own health advocate, you must take a hands-on approach to your healthcare and treatment. Listen intently, research and ask questions often, and challenge where appropriate. You should be well-versed in your family’s and your medical history. Health advocates can confidently answer questions about symptoms, lifestyle, and diet/exercise.

By taking initiative and empowering themselves to ask the right questions, health advocates feel more in control of their health. People who advocate for their health don’t need to know the ins and outs of their condition, but they understand the essential steps to take during the treatment process to ensure they’re adequately cared for. Health advocates know how to keep records and what to do when something is “off.”

Why is Advocating for Your Health Important?

If you don’t advocate for your health, you put your health into the hands of others. While nurses, doctors, and insurance providers rarely make mistakes on purpose, they do make mistakes. Mistakes are far too common in healthcare, and many are avoidable. Providers lose paperwork, misread exams, and forget to order essential lab results. These mistakes, sometimes due to medical malpractice, can have unfortunate effects on patients who need quality, prompt care. 

Additionally, your health is unique to you. Understanding and advocating for your own health ensures that your doctor has the best information to prescribe you a personalized treatment plan. 

Advocating for your health helps you control what you can, reduce risk, and get the care you deserve.

How to Advocate for Your Health

While doctors have an obligation to provide patients with quality care, you can empower yourself by following these ten steps: 

  1. Research and Choose a Good Doctor
  2. Prepare for Your Visits
  3. Ask the Right Questions
  4. Get a Second Opinion
  5. Take Notes
  6. Keep All Documents and Records
  7. Understand Your Prescriptions
  8. Build a Strong Support Network
  9. Know Your Rights and Act Fast
  10. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

#1: Research and Choose a Good Doctor

Always do research before visiting a doctor for care. Think about when you’re buying a car; you probably start with research. You don’t need to know everything about what car you want and how it works. However, you should know what matters most to you (like safety features or number of seats) and the credibility of the person/brand you’re buying it from.

Researching doctors is similar. You should find out: 

  • What matters most to you. Think about the criteria that are most important to you when you’re selecting a healthcare provider. Of course, for some, choice is a luxury.
    • If you don’t have several options, try to find the most credible hospital that accepts your insurance or that you can afford. 
    • If you can choose from many hospitals, consider the criteria that will make going to the doctor easier. For example, if you don’t have a car or it will be inconvenient to go to the doctor, you may want to look for a doctor near your house or work. 
  • Credibility of the hospital and doctor. Pay attention to ratings from other patients, medical boards, and associations. Look for any accreditations or specializations. Make sure they are taking new patients, and you can schedule an appointment soon.

#2: Prepare for Your Visits

Most doctors will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and overall health. Spend time reflecting and documenting these details before your visit because it will give your doctor the most information. When reflecting, don’t just list symptoms related to your suspected condition. Sometimes, a symptom you didn’t expect to be relevant can become relevant as your doctor narrows in on your diagnosis. Be sure to bring this information to your appointment or know it off-hand.

#3: Ask the Right Questions

Asking the right questions is crucial to being your own health advocate. When conducting online research, find out what other people with similar symptoms recommend asking the doctor. Ask as many relevant questions as possible about your diagnosis, treatment plan, prescriptions, and follow-up care. 

Good questions to ask your doctor include: 

  • What is my diagnosis? What symptoms led you to make this diagnosis?
  • Could it be any other condition? Are there signs I should look out for?
  • What is my treatment plan? 
  • Are there any long-term complications related to my diagnosis that I should be aware of?
  • Are there any symptoms I should watch closely? What if something changes?
  • What symptoms require immediate treatment? 
  • What prescriptions are you recommending? What do they do / how do they work?
  • What are the normal side effects of my prescriptions? What are abnormal side effects?
  • Are there any specialists you recommend I see for a second opinion about this diagnosis? 
  • Is there anything I need to change about my lifestyle, diet, or exercise? (Remember, not all doctors are qualified to provide nutrition advice, but they can refer you to a nutritionist).
  • Can you explain my test results in detail? What are abnormal or normal test results?
  • When should I come back in? How can I best check in with you if I have questions or concerns?

Make a list of good questions and bring them to your appointments. Be sure to write down the answers. 

#4: Get a Second Opinion

Always get a second opinion. The more significant and life-threatening your diagnosis, the more crucial it is to get a second opinion. Doctors are people just like you, so they make mistakes. These mistakes can cause long-lasting or life-threatening consequences for you and your family. 

A Mayo Clinic study found that “88 percent of patients who visited Mayo Clinic for a second opinion had their initial diagnosis changed or modified as a result of a second opinion.” A second opinion can save you pain, suffering, and medical expenses

If you’ve been diagnosed with an illness that requires extensive treatment, like cancer, get a second opinion before you begin treatment. Cancer is frequently misdiagnosed, and the consequences are detrimental. According to a recent study, the overall cancer misdiagnosis rate is an alarming 11%, with the rates for individual types being much higher. Lung cancer, for example, is misdiagnosed almost 23% of the time. 

Any reputable doctor will encourage you to get a second opinion, and many will refer you to a specialist if you ask.

#5: Take Notes

Taking notes during and after your healthcare visits is acceptable and encouraged. While doctors sometimes provide you with information after the appointment, they do not always. It’s a good idea to have your own records. 

Take detailed notes about: 

  • Dates of important visits
  • Diagnoses
  • Questions you asked
  • Doctor responses to your questions
  • Symptoms you experienced and how you communicated them to your doctor
  • Information communicated to you verbally, over the phone, or face-to-face
  • Anything else that seems important

Keeping detailed notes can feel overwhelming at first, but it’s vital to advocate for your health. Take a pen and paper or your phone with you to visits and take notes during your visit. You can also set aside a few minutes after your visit to write up how the visit went, what you heard, and actions you will take next. Try to write enough to help you remember what happened later.

#6: Keep All Documents and Records

When it comes to hospital visits, keep everything. Keep and store all records in a safe place. Ask for copies of records and results if the provider did not volunteer them to you. 

Keep everything you can, including: 

  • Bills
  • Receipts and records of payment
  • Diagnosis information
  • Prescription information
  • Lab results
  • Anything you’ve signed, like consent or liability waivers
  • Doctor notes & post-visit summaries
  • Personal notes about symptoms, visits, and more
  • Any communication from doctors, nurses, and health or insurance providers, like emails, mail statements, texts, etc. 
  • Names and contact information of your doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers

It’s better to have more information than you need. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Would this be helpful to prove 1.) that this visit happened and 2.) what happened at this visit?” The answer is almost always yes.

#7: Understand Your Prescriptions

You should know what prescriptions you’re taking and what they do at any given time. It can be hard to remember, especially if you have several. Keep a list of all active and inactive prescriptions. Make note of any side effects you experience when taking your prescriptions in case you become the victim of a pharmacy error

When prescribed a new medication, ask your doctor about the side effects, how it works, and how long you need to take it. Write all of this information down, and add it to your historical list of medications. 

#8: Build a Strong Support Network

Undergoing treatment can be stressful, isolating, and scary. Many patients report feelings of depression, anxiety, and reduced sense of self.

Build a strong support network if you’re undergoing treatment or experiencing a health challenge. Make sure you have a reliable network of people you can trust and lean on for help. Family, friends, and community can help you maintain normalcy and hope.

#9: Know Your Rights and Act Fast

Sometimes, things won’t go as planned, regardless of what you do. Unfortunately, there are several factors outside of your control. While advocating for your health can empower you to understand your conditions and treatment plans, it cannot prevent negligence or medical malpractice.

Remember, you have rights, and you are not responsible for the negligence of others. If you experience complications at the hands of medical providers, you may have a case for medical malpractice. In Indiana, the statute of limitations begins at the time of the malpractice and expires in two years.

#10: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Filing a medical malpractice suit (or even knowing if you have a case) can be overwhelming. The pain of uncertainty and new health challenges compounds with the fear of lifelong complications and the stress of trying to resolve them. 

You’re not alone.

If you think you have experienced medical malpractice, Golitko & Daly’s experienced attorneys can help. We can help you build your case, fight for the compensation you deserve, and put your life back together.

To schedule a free consultation, call us at 317-566-9600 (Indianapolis), 765-865-9300 (Kokomo), or 812-566-2600 (Bloomington), or complete our inquiry form.*

*Free consultation; no retainer fee. You don’t pay a fee until we obtain a settlement for you. All attorney fees are based on the amount of your recovery.