Why Becoming Your Own Health Advocate Can Save Your Money and Your Life
As a pharmacist, I’ve seen many patients from all ages and walks of life—rural communities, large metropolitan areas, wealthy, low-income, Spanish-speaking, non-English speaking, multi-racial, multi-cultural—you name it. And while I’d noticed some differences between these groups, one day I realized that there was one thing that united them all: Many of these people – patients—were reluctant or even afraid to take charge of their health care or speak up for themselves. Folks in the health care industry call it “health advocacy” or “being an advocate for your care”. I was stunned to find out how many people are actually afraid to ask their doctors, insurance companies, or people working in the health care system questions to clear up confusion– let alone for help.
I quickly began to see myself as an advocate for my patients, giving a voice to those who would otherwise remain silent and whose care – not to mention quality of life—might be at risk if nobody spoke up for them.
So, what exactly do I mean by advocacy? Advocacy can take on many meanings depending on the situation, but more than anything, it starts with getting involved in your care. And doing so has many benefits:
Advocacy improves your health because asking questions can sometimes help your medical team identify problems that may not have been so obvious. Don’t worry about whether you’re asking the right questions— the main thing is that you get the conversation started. If something doesn’t feel right, just ask.
It can help avoid errors and catch mistakes. Despite best efforts, sometimes information may get lost in translation or be left out unintentionally— whether or not you have electronic records (technology can make mistakes, too). Speaking up is an easy way to double-check to make sure your information is correct.
It can actually save you money. That’s right. The more we learn about ourselves, our bodies, our conditions, and how they’re being treated, the more aware we become. This increased awareness makes us more likely to ask our doctors, nurses, and pharmacists questions that may lead to changing to cheaper drugs when appropriate, getting rid of unnecessary drugs you might be taking (like taking two or more similar medications), or preventing extra medical costs by finding— and treating a condition you didn’t know you had.
It empowers you and boosts your confidence. Becoming more familiar with your medications and conditions makes you feel good and like you’re on top of things—because you are! And, it doesn’t stop there—it can give you the courage to challenge yourself with taking on other goals or projects you wouldn’t have dared to touch before – such as using your new skills to help other people become more involved in their health or trying out a new hobby!
Now that you know why health advocacy is important, here are some ways to start taking charge of health: