It’s important for women to feel confident and trusted in their doctor’s office. But this can be challenging: Most people — men and women — aren’t great at explaining their symptoms when they’re in pain.

So how can you feel more empowered? How can you become your own health advocate? Read on to learn how to talk to your doctor and take charge of your health.

Bring Someone With You to Your Appointment

Ideally, a doctor-patient meeting is a conversation between two experts: You are the expert on your own body, and the doctor is the expert in medical information. However, communicating about your body can be difficult, especially in the exam room.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to bring a friend, family member, or partner as a fellow advocate, especially if you’ve recently received a tough diagnosis. With an outside perspective, your loved one may be able to ask questions that you might forget or be afraid to ask. They can also ask questions while you digest the information, especially if you need time to process.

Some hospitals, including UPMC, can provide an advocate for you if you don’t have someone available to bring to your appointment. Try discussing your concerns with your advocate beforehand, so they can make sure to communicate your concerns clearly and helpfully.

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Document Your Symptoms

Before your appointment, make a list of your symptoms and concerns. Record information like when and where you experience pain, and how it feels.

This list can arm you with information and remind you of small details in the moment. Remember: You’re the expert on your own body.

If you’ve recently seen a different specialist, you may also want to bring any paperwork from that conversation. Scans, test results, and charts are all good to provide.

Do Your Own Research

Though the internet is full of inconsistent medical information, researching your concerns online before your appointment is still a good idea. Some people worry that their care provider might scoff at them for doing their own research, but they shouldn’t feel embarrassed about seeking understanding.

At your appointment, your care provider can guide you through the details; it’s never bad to come armed with information about your symptoms, possible diagnoses, or concerns about specific medications.

Think of it as prepping for a meeting, just like you would at work. You wouldn’t want to come unprepared.

How to Talk to Your Doctor: Ask Questions

First, never hesitate to ask for clarification during a medical conversation. Trusting your doctor is important, and you need to ask questions so you can understand the details of your diagnosis and symptoms. Health care providers spend many hours explaining these details to their patients, so sometimes they can forget that the information is brand new to you.

If you hear something you don’t understand, take a deep breath, pause, and then repeat the information out loud, asking the doctor to rephrase using laymen’s terms. For example: “You said that I will need to undergo several treatments, including X and Y. Can you explain what those treatments will be like for me?”

Second, most hospitals and clinics also have medical record systems with online portals (ours is called MyUPMC). Reach out to your doctor if you have a question that you forgot to ask while you were in the office. That’s why these portals exist in the first place!

Remember That You Have Options

There are many care providers out there — you can always switch to a new doctor, nurse, or physician assistant if you don’t feel like you’re being heard. It’s crucial to find a health care provider who listens and builds a relationship with you; trusting your doctor is key. If your gut tells you that you need to find a different provider, listen to it!

Browse doctors here at UPMC to find one who’s right for you, and call 1-800-533-UPMC to schedule your first appointment.

About UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital

For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health. More than 9,000 babies are born each year at Magee. The hospital also treats men for a variety of conditions, including surgical treatment. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first center to focus research only on conditions involving women and their infants.