In the doctor’s office, it can be overwhelming to balance getting the care you need with getting all your questions answered. Sometimes, doctors may seem as if they’re in a hurry, not fully grasping what you’re trying to communicate, or—perhaps, most dangerously—not taking your words seriously. Speaking up for yourself and your health care in that scenario can be difficult, but it is oh-so-important. And if you’re one of the six in 10 Americans who live with a chronic illness, you might well be seeing different doctors quite often, further highlighting the need to advocate for yourself.
As someone with multiple chronic conditions, Nitika Chopra understands all too well the difficulty and importance of learning to advocate for yourself with a doctor. The chronic-illness advocate and founder of the Chronicon digital community, app, and event has been going to physicians to manage her psoriatic arthritis and plaque psoriasis for 32 years—and she still gets anxious with every new visit that certain issues she’s having or questions she’d like to ask won’t get addressed.
On this week’s episode of The Well+Good Podcast, host Taylor Camille speaks with Chopra ahead of this year’s live Chronicon summit, in Brooklyn, about the community she’s built to support others navigating life with chronic conditions and the importance of feeling empowered to own your truth.
Listen to the full podcast episode here:
A major part of Chopra’s advocacy involves helping those living with chronic conditions feel comfortable disclosing their conditions on their own terms and finding the support systems they need to thrive—that is, people who believe and respect their lived experience.
To Chopra, nothing stings quite so much as being questioned on the validity of her needs, like, for instance, a simple request to jump in an Uber with a friend for a short-distance journey if her joints or bones are feeling tender. It’s deeply challenging to hear the unsupportive reply, “Wait, what do you mean?” “I don’t just feel it for me, but I see people in our community who have shared that they have not been believed by their friends, family members, or their doctors, and I know how incredibly disorienting that is,” she says.
Expecting to be misunderstood, dismissed, or otherwise disregarded can make a trip to the doctor’s office even more nerve-wracking than it might already feel. And feeling anxious or worried could knock you off track before or during an appointment, leaving you with unanswered questions once the appointment is over.
Below, Chopra shares her top two tips for advocating for yourself at the doctor’s office—whether you’re managing a chronic condition or a new illness or injury—so you can be sure you leave feeling empowered and armed with information and next steps.
2 tips from Chronicon founder Nitika Chopra to help you advocate for yourself at your next doctor appointment
1. Rally support from your network
Your friends and loved ones can serve as a key support system when it comes to dealing with health matters. Talking through your feelings or plan of action before a doctor’s appointment with someone you trust is one way Chopra recommends bolstering your confidence to advocate for yourself in the moment.
You can send a quick text or jump on the phone with a friend, or you can even bring someone with you who’s familiar with your situation to help ensure you ask all the questions you need answered.
Chopra finds that connecting with one of her own trusted friends before an appointment works wonders to help soothe her jitters. “This is a great way to reprogram my nervous system [to reduce stress] in the moment, and then I can remember I have these people [who support me] no matter what,” she says.
2. Make a list of questions ahead of time, and reference them in the appointment
Doctor’s appointments can move quickly, and it’s easy for key questions to get lost in the shuffle. To help stay on track and remember everything she wants to ask and say, Chopra keeps a running list of questions in a note on her phone and adds thoughts to it as they arise. That way, on the day of an appointment, she can just reference the list she’s built to make sure she’s not leaving anything important out of the discussion. “It’s not the most perfectly organized thing, but then at least I know I don’t have to stress about remembering important stuff,” she says.
Referencing a list can also keep the doctor from rushing out before you’ve had a chance to comment on certain items. For example, at a recent appointment with her neurologist, Chopra used her list to be sure things didn’t wrap up before she had a chance to get key questions answered. “[The doctor’s] vibe is, ‘Let’s make sure we keep going,’ so I’ll say out loud, ‘I have three questions left on my list, and I need to make sure I get to them,’ so he knows and can keep track,” she says.