5 Ways to Be Your Own Health Advocate

Being an advocate for your own health can be difficult. Here are ways you can get the information you need.

When Stacey Powell found herself nearly passing out at the end of her classes after teaching Zumba recently, she went from registered nurse, director of surgical services for HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals, to patient. Powell learned she would need a cardiac ablation – a procedure to destroy tissue in the heart to stop an abnormal heart rhythm.  In her case, she was experiencing a very rapid heart rate known as SVT, or supraventricular tachycardia.

Powell’s procedure was December 9, 2019, and the process was not easy for Powell. She was accustomed to helping patients and colleagues navigate through this tough time. Now she was on the other side of the coin.

As she went through the health care process, she wondered how people who aren’t immersed in health care or who don’t have a health care resource effectively advocate for their own health in similar situations.

Here are five tools Powell suggests when advocating for your own health:

  • ASK QUESTIONS: It’s important to ask any questions that pop into your head. If you know you’ll be at the doctor’s office for a visit, or at the hospital, make sure to write down all questions before you go. That way in the heat of the moment you won’t forget those pressing thoughts. Of course, questions may come to mind after you leave, so get a number or e-mail to connect with the provider after you leave the office or hospital.
  • MEET THE TEAM: Ask to meet the team of doctors, nurses, support staff and anyone else who will be collaborating to get you back to tip-top shape. Meeting those people and asking questions can ease concerns.
  • SCHEDULE UPDATES: Ask your nurse or doctor how often you will receive updates on your condition, health plan or medication. If possible, have them write scheduled times on your hospital room’s wipe board. That way you can anticipate updates and point to the board for reassurance.
  • DETAIL THE DISCHARGE: Make sure the nurse goes over discharge instructions line by line with you, and ask them to highlight anything that you must do right away when you get home. It gets overwhelming and you don’t want to forget something you must do immediately. If you have someone with you or to help after you get home, make sure they’re in the room to hear these instructions as well.
  • PICK UP THE PHONE: Don’t be afraid to call and ask questions once you’ve been discharged from the hospital.

Great care is a collaboration.

Powell said she was lucky to know people and have people looking out for her in the health care field. But that’s not most people’s luck, she admits.

“Going through something like this reminds me how daunting a health situation can be and how scary it is to lose that sense of control,” Powell said. “I encourage patients to ask for help and not hold back from communicating with their healthcare team. If that doesn’t happen, the patient may feel like they have no control over what’s happening.”

Powell’s health is returning to her baseline and she feels very blessed and fortunate to have had great care, support and successful treatments to date.

“I feel so fortunate to have had excellent care and a smooth recovery. Other than being tired and working to get my energy back, I truly have nothing to complain about,” Powell said.

Another way to advocate for your own health is to know your patient rights. For more information about patient rights, visit https://www.sacredhearteauclaire.org/Patients-Guests/Patient-Rights