What’s it Mean to be an Advocate?

“Advocate” is one of those terms I hear tossed around a lot, by my clients, by other professionals, and in articles I pick up or see online. It seems like a lot of my clients use that term, too.  And I use it a lot myself.


If you’re talking about being advocate, what’s it mean to you? Here how I often see advocate being used:


  • Getting informed about your condition and its treatment


  • Asking healthcare professionals questions and expecting answers


  • Getting a second opinion before you make a decision


  • Understanding what services are available to you and making sure you get them


  • “Standing up” to your doctor when you don’t feel you’re getting what you need


Notice that my definitions of being an advocate range from something you do on your own to potentially getting downright confrontational.


Are you aware of the formal definition of advocate? Dictionary.com defines an advocate as a person who “speaks or writes in support or defense of a person or a cause.”


In my mind, that definition pretty much covers the water in terms of the examples of advocacy that I provided. What I would say is that being an effective advocate means assessing the situation and choosing the best approach to achieve your goal, whatever that is.  In other words, using the right tool for the right job.


What I have learned in my own experiences, as well as those of my clients and other members here, is that we have to be our own best advocate in our current healthcare system. And here’s what being your own best advocate means to me:


Get educated.  On your diagnosis and its treatment.  Being an advocate starts with having a solid foundation of knowledge.  And this is an ongoing process, so that you stay on top of the latest information regarding your current medications, and anything on the horizon.  You might need to help your doctor to stay up-to-date.


Ask questions.  Patients are all too often shy about asking their doctor questions.  Either they feel it’s not their place, and that their doctor might be offended, or they don’t think their doctor has time.  Sure, your doctor may not have time to answer a whole list of questions.  But make it not only your right but also your responsibility to come prepared for each appointment with any questions that you might have.  Three is a good number, but ask more if you need to.


Keep records.  Write down any symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, along with when they occurred and how you were affected.  Keep track of changes in medication so that you can review your history with a new doctor if needed.  Make a list of questions for your next appointment.  Do this for all of your doctors.


Keep your doctor informed.  If you have a symptom that seems out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to let your doctor know.  This helps him/her to do their job.  Let your doctors know what other doctors are prescribing so they can all be aware of any potential harmful interactions between medications.


Know your rights.  This applies to wherever you are being treated as well as how it’s being paid for, by your insurance company, Medicare, or Medicaid. This will help you to know when you need to push back and when you don’t need to.  And that means a whole lot less stress.


Stand up for yourself.  In a gentle but firm manner.  It doesn’t have to mean “getting up in your doctor’s face.”  You can be kind while also making it clear what is okay and what is not okay in terms of how you are being treated.  This is another way to help your doctor to help you.


And help somebody else out.  The definition of advocate includes advocating on someone else’s behalf.  If you have a friend or family member who needs some help or guidance, be willing to jump in if they will accept your help.  Share your knowledge.


The bottom line in being your own best advocate? Take ownership of your healthcare. Be informed.  Be prepared.  Be fearless.  Take good care of yourself.