Here in the United States, navigating the healthcare system can be difficult. Premiums and insurance bills are getting more expensive, and appointment times with providers feel shorter with each visit, leaving many of us feeling helpless and discouraged.To help bridge the gap between what you feel like you should be getting out of your health care and what you’re actually getting, let’s discuss 3 key tools for becoming a better self advocate and an active participant in your care.

Tool #1: Know what you want from each visit

As we age and go through different seasons in life, our needs change. This means we also need different things from our healthcare team over time. This might involve finding new providers or having a conversation with your current team to communicate your needs and expectations about your care. Don’t forget that choosing a new provider is like any other interview process – you’re interviewing them to make sure that they’re a good fit for you and will be able to help you meet your goals. Then, at each visit, have a specific goal or outcome you’d like to achieve and clearly communicate that with your practitioner. So instead of going in and saying “I have this problem, how can you help?”, come up with some specific questions you have about what’s happening and how to find a resolution. Determining what it is you want answered and what you want to walk away from the appointment with will help set you up to be an active participant in your care and treatment plan, so that you don’t walk away feeling like it was a one way conversation or that you were steamrolled with unhelpful information. And while preparation is key, you also need to shift your mindset around your role within the team – you are as much a member of the team as anyone else; after all, you are the expert of your own body! Knowing that you can steer the conversation where you want it to go is a powerful thing.

Tool #2: Lab literacy

One thing that has been extremely useful for my clients is helping them understand and learn which labs to request, and also how to read and interpret their lab results. Depending on your symptoms, you may need to request testing that isn’t on a normal or routine panel. When it comes to your results, it’s important to understand the difference between the standard lab ranges and functional lab ranges. Standard ranges are based on the averages of the people who get the labs done, and therefore don’t necessarily reflect optimal wellness, so understanding the functional ranges will help reveal where you need further support to feel your best. This is where working with functional practitioners can be really beneficial to help get your numbers into a more optimal range, but having this knowledge can also help you have more engaging conversations with conventional doctors.

Tool #3: Find practitioners that are willing to look at you as an integrated person

You are not your diagnosis, or your symptoms. These are just part of the bigger picture that is you as a whole person, and your experiences! How the different systems of the body are interrelated and how they work together is something I always try to teach my clients. Once you’re able to see yourself as integrated and get a glimpse of how everything is working together, you’ll be better equipped to identify practitioners that are using that same type of language. So if you find yourself being treated just like a symptom, or a diagnosis, or if you are being treated over and over again but there is no follow up about your diet and lifestyle, this may be a red flag and a sign that your provider isn’t seeing the whole picture.

So there you have it, my 3 main tools for becoming a better self advocate within the context of our healthcare system:

1. Be prepared, have outcomes that you really want to get out of each session, and make sure that you get your goals addressed and your desires met in that office visit or call.

2. Become familiar with examining your labs and tracking trends over time.

3. Lastly, really coming to this idea of seeing yourself as an integrated body, so that you are able to look for practitioners that also see you that way.

With these in your toolbox, the hope is that you’ll be able to attract practitioners that are able to help you, your goals, and your health, but also that you begin to put yourself in the driver’s seat. This is no small thing, when we’re talking about really caring for ourselves and building a team around us that’s going to advocate for us as well. As always, if you have any questions or need more support around navigating your care, don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m always happy to chat.