Make a Difference in Your Health Care — Speak Up!

October 3, 2012

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My mother is my role model and my inspiration for what I do every day. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was in her forties, and fought it courageously for seven years until she passed away in 2010.

At one point she complained of stomach pain, which her doctor said was caused by her medication, and prescribed stool softeners. She wondered why if the pain was caused by the medication, why was he telling her to take more? Either he did not explain completely, or she did not understand. “So why didn’t you ask the doctor about it?” I would ask.

Asking her doctor questions just wasn’t something she thought she could do, and no amount of cajoling on my part could get her to change her mind. I attributed her reticence to her having come of age in China. However, she was also a schoolteacher who had no trouble standing up for her students. So why couldn’t she advocate for herself when she needed it the most?

I want to make a difference to my patients and encourage all of you to make a difference in your healthcare. Speak up the moment you have a question, the moment you don’t understand something the doctor said. Don’t let more time—and more opportunity for misunderstanding—pass by. The work that you do will revolutionize your interactions with your doctor, and potentially change how your doctor interacts with future patients as well.

Leana Wen is an emergency physician who blogs at When Doctors Don’t Listen. She is the co-author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Prevent Misdiagnosis and Unnecessary Tests. She can also be reached on Twitter @drleanawen.

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