Self-Advocacy at the Doctor’s Office

Did you know that the average amount of time a patient has with their doctor during an appointment is about 15 minutes? It is imperative that patients maximize their time with their chosen medical professionals to help ensure positive outcomes. Patients, and often their families, need to understand that they are the managers of their own health and well-being.

The Stanford University Patient Education Research Center has developed educational programs that aim to provide valuable tools and forums to help participants with self-management. The programs are designed for those who are living with chronic conditions and those who serve as caregivers. One such program is titled “Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP).” CDSMP is a workshop series being implemented by master trainers and lay leaders around the country in community-based sites. CDSMP utilizes accompanying educational materials designed for both consumers and health professionals. One book Stanford has developed is called Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions. The topic of advocating for yourself or a loved one at the doctor’s office is just one of many topics addressed in this book. For more information on the book (which is also available in audio and e-book versions), visit

The steps outlined in Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions are very helpful when we think about effectively utilizing the expertise and limited time of our health care professionals. First, it is necessary to be prepared prior to scheduled appointments. Compose your own list of current medications, including the doses, schedule, and intended reason for use. Medications could include those prescribed by another specialist, or member of your health care team. It is important to remember that your primary care doctor and specialists may have not communicated recently.

Prepare your own agenda with a list of questions and/or problems listed in order of importance. Allow your doctor to review this list so that he or she might see what they feel is most medically relevant. Be open with your story and outline what may have changed since you have begun a new medication, for example. Avoid any misunderstandings during the appointment by repeating back any instructions given. This way, you will have a chance to clarify instructions while you have your doctor in front of you rather than after your appointment when it may be very difficult to reach the doctor.

Keep a health care journal to clearly record changes and things you would like to address before, during, and after your appointment. You can also use this journal to identify what the next steps are, including follow-up treatments, tests, and appointments. It is also always an option to bring to your appointment a trusted advocate like a friend, family member, or geriatric care manager. This person can help with recording instructions, concerns, and questions. An advocate can be especially appropriate when a patient is unable to effectively self-advocate due to hearing loss or certain conditions like dementia.

For more information on CDSMP, visit the website for the National Council on Aging at To better understand its impact on Connecticut, visit

At Weatherby & Associates, we are invested in work that will allow our clients to live well and to actively advocate for their own personal and health care needs. If you have questions, or would like to schedule a consultation, please contact us at 860-769-6938.



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