Making Empowered Medical Decisions | Inspiring Health | © Sacred Heart Hospital

How to Be an Empowered Patient

Remember, you are your health care provider’s partner when making medical decisions that affect you.

 “If you are in our care at HSHS Sacred Heart or St. Joseph’s hospitals, we are constantly in contact with you to make sure you understand your health situation and potential future steps. We will be in contact with you as much as you want, but ultimately, the choice is yours when making decisions about your personal health care.”

Andy Bagnall, FACHE, President and Chief Executive Officer of HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital and HSHS Western Wisconsin Division, including HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital

 When you are ill or injured, you may feel more vulnerable than you do during other times of life. You may also be content to let someone else make important decisions for you regarding your personal health. But keep in mind that nobody knows how you feel in times of sickness and of health better than you do. You are the perfect person to act as your own health advocate.

“As patients, we tend to put a good amount of trust in our health care professionals, but they cannot do their jobs as well without our input,” says Andy Bagnall, FACHE, President and Chief Executive Officer of HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital and HSHS Western Wisconsin Division, including HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital. “Being your own health care advocate by taking an active role in your care and communicating clearly with your health care team is important.”

Trust Yourself and Your Instincts

You may not think of yourself as the kind of person who wants to make waves, but speaking up for yourself and asking questions about diagnoses and care recommendations made by your health care providers may help enhance the speed and effectiveness of your recovery.

“We want our patients at HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals to know that it’s okay to say, ‘I question this diagnosis, and here’s why,’” Bagnall says. “If patients ever feel they are not being heard or their concerns are falling on deaf ears, it’s time to get a second opinion. Being your own health care advocate is all about standing up for yourself, being heard, and knowing when to try another avenue.”

Informing Yourself

When you are educated about your health concerns and also in the know about your personal health and your family’s health history, you may feel more confident about advocating for yourself. Speak up about concerning symptoms or if you are experiencing something new health-wise. Talk with family members about possible genetic conditions, such as certain types of cancer, congestive heart failure, or diabetes.

“The more information you can share with your health care provider, the quicker and more accurate your diagnosis will be,” Bagnall says. “And if you do not understand information that your health care provider shares with you, simply ask, ‘What does that mean?’ or ‘Can you explain that again?’ These simple questions will help you feel more in control of the information you are given.”

Continue to inquire until you clearly understand everything your health care provider is saying.

Building Relationships

If you do not feel comfortable with your health care provider for any reason, do not hesitate to find a new one. The more you trust the person taking care of you, the more likely you are to openly share important details about your health.

Once you have found a provider you click with, take steps to prepare before your next visit with him or her and make the most of your time when you are together. Some good rules of thumb to remember include:

  • Write it down. Put your questions on paper so you do not forget anything important.
  • Ask anything. Give yourself permission to inquire not only about your health or care, but also about any related concerns, such as your bill or insurance coverage.
  • Be candid. If you are not pleased with certain aspects of your care, let your provider know so he or she can take steps to correct the situation.

“Remember, you ultimately have a choice when it comes to where you will receive your care and who will be providing that care,” Bagnall says. “Your doctor is your choice just like your hospital is your choice.”

 If you need a provider, use our search tool at or to find one near you.

In matters of life and death, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst can be a sensible approach. Although talking about advance directives issues may initially feel uncomfortable, knowing what will happen when a “what if” scenario occurs makes managing the situation easier for everyone involved.

“Have the conversation about advance directives with your family as soon as you think about it and get the paperwork done now,” says Erik Dickson, MD, Chief Physician Executive with HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals. “You never know when something unfortunate is going to happen.”

Defining Advance Directives

Your advance directives state what you want to happen if you are unable to communicate or make decisions about your medical treatment. In Wisconsin, the main documents to include in your advance directive instructions are:

  • Durable power of attorney for finances—This document allows you to designate a person to make your financial decisions if you are unable to do so.
  • Durable power of attorney for health care—This document names your health care proxy, or the person you delegate to make your health decisions for you.
  • Living will—This type of directive includes written instructions regarding preferences related to goals of care.

Learn more about Advance Patient Directives or call 715.717.6594.

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