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Ten smart tips to be your best health advocate

By Sandra Wekesa
Thursday, February 4th, 2021
Doctor. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

In a broken healthcare system that can often be exhausting and draining, knowing how to be actively involved in your own treatment is important. This way, you will know what is important when it comes to your health SANDRA WEKESA explores some of the ways you can take an active role in your health journey. 

1 Asking questions

As much as you might have found information from Dr Google, it is important to carry some notes on questions that you might want answered by your doctor during your next appointment.

This helps you know the dos and don’ts of your condition. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with a new condition coming up with a set of questions to help broaden your understanding is important.

“Questions will help you know what you are dealing with, especially if it is something foreign.

If you have constant symptoms that keep on recurring you will find out what is going on in your body,” says Kioi Kamende, a resident doctor at Kenyatta National Hospital. 

Listen to your body

It is important to listen to your body every time you suspect there could be a problem.

When Felicity Agutu got a clear vaginal discharge she assumed that it was quite normal.

But with time, the discharge developed some foul smell and soon enough turned in colour.

Despite not knowing what ailed her, she assumed that it was an infection. “I went to the hospital knowing that I was unwell and this is all I needed to know to prompt me into action.

However, the doctor ruled out the possibility of having an infection and did not bother to run tests on me.

With time I got a severe bacterial infection and that is when I sought a second opinion and it turned out that I had a Urinary tract infection (UTI),” she recalls. 

3 Get a second opinion

The more you learn about your diagnosis and treatment options the better your chances of receiving, the most appropriate treatment.

“A second opinion is an important part of being educated on what you are ailing from.

This helps you know even the little hidden aspects that you might have missed out on initially.

Therefore, going to a doctor’s office for more information on treatment options is important, especially after being diagnosed with a disease like cancer,” says Kamanda. 

4 Lean on your support system

Another important part of self-advocacy is surrounding yourself with people who can speak for you when you cannot.

This helps you in accessing the best treatment care after exploring the available options. 

Martha Wairimu, a business mogul who has had a history of misdiagnosis says that she learnt the hard way to surround herself with the people who care and can speak up for her.

Wairimu notes that without this support, sometimes doctors might recommend a procedure based on your family history without really considering your health and progress. 

5 Coordinate your care

This is mostly important for patients with a terminal illness. You might have a team of specialists who may be handling different aspects of your treatment.

It is therefore, important to fill in each of them on information that they may not have.

Additionally, having a follow up with your specialists offers you information on how to switch your lifestyle to suit your treatment. 

6 Do your research

As you know doctors are humans too and sometimes they might be wrong. Therefore, it is important to do a proper research.

If you are able to come up with a research of how you should be treated and what to expect from the treatment plan then you are able to deal with any form of misinformation that you may come across. 

Research shows that most doctors still determine your diagnosis from cultural beliefs and stereotype and this is why conducting detailed research helps in being on the look-out when it comes to knowing what needs to be done. 

7 Go doctor shopping 

Always trust your instincts, if a healthcare provider gives you a rundown on some of the potential issues dismissing what you think might have been the issue, there is no shame in seeking for another doctor’s opinion. 

8 Always opt for regular screening

Regular screening is a good way to take charge of your health. If you go for regular screening you will be able to know what exactly to expect when a healthcare provider misdiagnoses you.

“Even when you are doing perfectly fine just walk to a hospital and have that papsmear, mammogram or even HIV test done.

This gives you timely information regarding your health status,” adds Kamanda.

9 Don’t settle for treatment you are not comfortable with

When Winfred Mukami was diagnosed with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) her gynaecologist recommended Invitro Fertilisation (IVF) as a treatment option if she wished to have children.

However, she did not explore this option because she knew all she had to do was adjust her diet and lifestyle and soon enough her hormones would be stable.

She therefore decided to opt for a strict diet that would help her and in no time her fertility concerns were sorted.

10 Ask questions.

If you do not know anything just shoot that question. Ask your healthcare provider those pressing questions on issues that you just cant understand.

Being your own spokesperson helps you so much in getting clear information on your condition.