By Amy Stephenson

Health care in this country is a point of national pride and constant complaints!

Your medical support team is outstanding: a qualified group of practitioners under an oath to provide quality care. With this said, they are not mind readers, fortune tellers or a Magic 8 ball. There is no way for them to have a definitive answer to every question, especially to the ones you never ask. Medical appointments can be stressful situations that leave us with more questions, but it doesn’t have to be that way. “What’s wrong with you?” or “How can I help you today?” aren’t trick questions. They are missed opportunities. 

You are, by far, the most invested in your own health and this makes you a key player at the table. So why do so many of us take a back seat in our health-care experience?

Being a health advocate improves the quality of care and overall experience. This doesn’t mean we should google symptoms and self-treat with the newest and greatest secret thing! It also doesn’t require a degree or reading through medical journals. Information is great, but as patients the most critical information we hold is our history of symptoms. This is information our doctors didn’t study and is where our voice plays a critical role.  

Being an advocate for yourself and your loved ones means understanding symptoms and personal priorities.

An informed patient goes to an appointment prepared. Know who you will be speaking to and what you’re going to be discussing. Whether it is a general practitioner or a specialist appointment, you should have an idea of why you’re meeting. If the appointment is for a specific symptom, having the history of that symptom is key. Write down how long you have had the symptom, frequency, intensity, duration of incidences and any triggers. Preparing this takes the pressure off your memory and will help to maximize the time you have in the appointment.   

So how can you become a good health advocate? 

Be honest – there is nothing to gain by trying to make yourself look good for your doctor. These are people who can only help you if you tell them your situation. 

Be early – you have likely waited weeks for the appointment so try not to miss any of that precious time.  

Write down your questions beforehand – your voice and questions are valid. Having them prepared in advance means that you can express yourself even if things seem overwhelming. 

Have an up-to-date medication list – this includes over-the-counter vitamins or pain killers. More and more often we have multiple health-care providers equaling multiple sources of prescription. If you have been on medication for more than six months, ask if it’s still effective.  

Follow up on test referrals – when given a referral for blood work, an MRI, or any other specialist appointment, be sure to do your homework. This can mean going to a walk-in clinic to have the referral filled or calling to confirm your appointment time.  

Track your symptoms – having an accurate log of your symptoms is gold to your care provider. Consider taking pictures or videos to track a symptom if it is progressing. Keep a journal to see if there are any patterns or triggering activities.  

For more tips, check out the resource provided by the Central East LHIN at