If you have anxiety about going to the doctor, you are not alone. There are many reasons people dread doctor's visits — anxiety about their health problems, fear of doctor's weight biases, high co-pays and time constraints. According to a qualitative study entitled "Why Do People Avoid Medical Care?," another reason people steer clear of medical care is because they don't trust their physicians: "many people reported unfavorable evaluations of seeking medical care (e.g., communication problems, concerns about physicians’ trustworthiness and expertise)."
Not trusting your doctor can lead to health issues and even crises. The above study warns about the impact of "patient-physician relationship and medical trust on medication adherence, health care utilization, and health outcomes." Since medical care is important, instead of avoiding doctor's visits, why not learn to advocate for yourself?
Wellness writer Joni Sweet explains that all patients have a right to what is known as "culturally competent care."
"Culturally and linguistically appropriate services are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and needs of diverse patients," the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health says.
What does this mean for you? It means that as a patient, you have the authority to advocate for yourself.
Keep reading to learn three ways you can be in charge at your next doctor's visit.
You Can Ask Not To Be Weighed
Whether you have a history of eating disorders or merely wish to avoid a lecture about your weight, "the decision to have your weight read aloud-or taken at all-is entirely up to you," Sweet notes. Not only that, but you also have a right not to have weight become the central focus of your doctor's appointment.
Sean Phelan, PhD, is a Mayo Clinic researcher who focuses on the impact of "stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination in regard to health and medical care for members of stigmatized, marginalized and minority groups." He says that no matter what your weight is, you as a patient deserve to receive care.
He explains that there are two things you can do if your doctor focuses on weight loss — either say, "I totally understand this would get better if I lost some weight, but can we deal with the right here and now, so I can get relief from what I'm experiencing?" or find a new doctor.
You Can Keep Your Clothes On
Or at least you can keep most of your clothes on. Some cultures and religions place a high value on modesty, so being asked to strip down in a doctor's office and don a paper gown violates multiple boundaries. Then, there are people who are more private or who are triggered by taking off their clothes. If this is the case for you, then being asked to undress is demoralizing.
If you would prefer not to take all of your clothes off, there are several things you can do. When you have a pap test, for instance, you can "ask the staff to help you minimize the amount of time you spend without your clothes on," Sweet says.
Dr. Sheryl Ross, who is an OB-GYN, said that you can keep your bra on until right before an exam, and then put it right back on afterwards — or "if someone is very shy, they can also leave their underwear on until the pelvic exam."
You Can Decide Who Will Be In The Room With You
Although pandemic regulations have been necessarily strict about who who can be in the room with you, during non-pandemic times you have the right to decide who will be with you when you are being examined. You can also ask for a chaperone to be there, especially during more sensitive appointments like a visit to the gynecologist.
"All women should be asked if they want a chaperone to come in the room with them, even if it's a female doctor," Dr Ross says.
Next time you visit the doctor, give yourself a little pep talk ahead of time. Remind yourself that you have rights — and that you are allowed to self-advocate. If your doctor does anything that makes you feel disrespected, uncomfortable or ashamed — or if your doctor doesn't listen to you — then you can fire them. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect — you just have to ask for it.