It happens time and time again. Women are told their health concerns are “nothing to worry about” for one reason or another. It’s just part of being a woman. It’s just part of perimenopause. It’s all in your head. And if you’re a woman of color, studies show, you’ll be dismissed even more often. But no one knows your body better than you do, and if you think something’s wrong, you deserve to be taken seriously.
You and your HCP should act as a team when it comes to your healthcare. It may feel awkward to ask follow-up questions or request more details, but your HCP should be supportive and help you get all the answers you need.
Here are five strategies to try if your healthcare provider isn’t listening to you:
1. Partner with your provider
Just as you need an HCP’s expertise to understand and manage health conditions, they need your expertise on your body and your experiences. Let them know how you’re feeling, not only physically, but emotionally as well.
Share with them: “I’m worried,” or “Something doesn’t feel right to me,” or whatever is true to how you’re feeling.
Invite your HCP to partner with you, too, by asking them to let you into their thought process. Ask what they think could be causing your symptoms. If they’ve ruled out certain possible diagnoses, ask them why.
You can also ask: “Have we tried all the tests that would be recommended for diagnosing that condition?” If not, they may have a good reason, and you’re entitled to ask them about it.
If your HCP is having you try a treatment that’s not working, they may be waiting to give it time. You can say, “This doesn’t seem to be working. If that doesn’t change, what would be the next step?”
If your HCP seems unsure what to do next or if they seem to be out of ideas or options, you can ask if the scientific literature or clinical guidelines may offer new ideas. The answer may be no, but the question may help your HCP understand how serious you are.
2. Prepare for appointments
Preparing for HCP appointments will help you set the agenda to make sure your concerns have a better chance of being addressed.
Track and write down your symptoms, along with how bad they are and what triggers them. Be as detailed as possible about what you’re feeling and when. You may want to share that written record with your HCP before your appointment or bring it with you for reference.
Also bring a list of questions for your HCP. Write them down in order of priority and start with the most important ones. If you run out of time for the rest, schedule a follow-up call or visit.
Armed with facts, details and questions, you’ll be in a better position to clearly let your HCP know what your needs and your experiences are. The more concrete you can be about your experience, the harder it will be to dismiss you.
3. Be direct
If you don’t feel like your HCP is listening or taking you seriously, speak up. Let them know how you’re feeling. You can try being very direct: “I don’t feel heard right now” or “I don’t feel like you’re taking my concerns seriously.” Or, you can start by giving the HCP the benefit of the doubt and say something like, “I don’t feel like I’m letting you know the seriousness of my concerns. Let me try again.”
4. Schedule more time
If you’re not feeling listened to or you’re feeling rushed out of the exam room, pause before you leave and ask for follow-up time. You can say, “I didn’t get all my concerns addressed. Can we schedule more time to discuss what’s on my mind?” Or, you can acknowledge how packed your HCP’s schedule probably is: “I know you’re busy. Is there a time when you’d be able to talk by phone or schedule a visit where we can have more time to discuss my concerns?”
5. Engage an ally or advocate — and maybe a second opinion
You can bring a friend or loved one with you to your appointments so you have another pair of eyes and ears — and another voice in your corner. You can formally authorize someone you trust to act as an authorized representative on your behalf with your HCP’s office. You can also hire a private, independent advocate to accompany you to visits or speak to your HCP on your behalf, with your permission. Or, if you can’t afford to hire someone, check with local nonprofits or organizations that advocate for people with your condition. They may be able to help.
If none of these strategies work, it may be time to switch HCPs. If you don’t have the option to switch HCPs, you may still be able to request a second opinion or to see a different HCP in the same practice. But if you do have choices, read reviews and treat your first visit as an interview. Pay attention to how you feel communicating with them. Do you feel comfortable? Respected? Heard? If the answer is no, keep looking.
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