How to be a Health Advocate for a Loved One

Originally published April 1, 2020

Last updated December 14, 2022

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Two Keck Medicine of USC physicians share tips for how to successfully advocate for yourself at a medical appointment — and also for others who may need care.

When it comes time for a visit to the doctor, it can be easy to forget to mention that nagging problem or the sudden change in your body. It helps to bring a trusted loved one, but what does that mean?

Two physicians from Keck Medicine weigh in on the Big Question:

Carrie Ward, MD, primary care physician, USC Internal Medicine

As primary care doctors, we see patients at all stages of their life and in all conditions, for regular annual visits or for a sudden illness. We rely on patients to tell us when something is wrong because no one knows your body better than you.

As a health advocate, the best thing you can do is make sure your concerns are being heard by your care providers. Ask questions if you feel something is different, or when something changes.

Tell us when something is wrong… no one knows your body better than you.

Carrie Ward, MD

Have conversations about any symptoms you should watch for, and keep track of your daily health even when you feel healthy. It can provide a baseline measure for when you are sick.

Being informed is key, but make sure your sources are credible. If you want to read up on a medical condition before your visit, use trusted sources such as the National Institutes of Health site or established national foundations.

Jenny C. Hu, MD, MPH, Mohs surgeon, USC Dermatology

No patient wants to hear that dreaded phrase: “It’s cancer.” As doctors, we hear it all too often, but we know for our patients, it could be the first time they’re facing such a diagnosis.

In times like these, having someone to help the patient as their health advocate can mean the difference between being educated about their treatment plan and being afraid and in the dark.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions and for more simplified explanations.

Jenny C. Hu, MD, MPH

If you are helping a loved one, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Ask for more simplified explanations if you don’t fully understand what is being discussed.

Consider a second opinion when appropriate. Keep copies of medical records such as blood tests, biopsy reports and imaging. Sign up for access to electronic health records when available.

And understand how your medical insurance works, especially if you need authorizations for testing or to see specialists.

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USC Health Magazine 2024 Issue #1

Read the current issue

Download PDF