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Taking Charge of Our Health Care

I work in a women’s health clinic and often interview patients about their gynecological care. Quite often, I hear from women about how little they like their gynecologist or primary care physician. They report to me everything from indifference in behavior to things that are egregious to the point of being reportable to licensing boards. I always remind patients that it is their choice about whom they see for medical care, and that they can, even in the middle of treatment, seek another care provider.

Several of my friends are midwives and doulas (labor/birth support providers). They talk about patients who feel badly about “abandoning” their ob/gyn, especially if the person is someone they’ve relied upon for gynecological care for several years. This happened to me with my first pregnancy. I knew I wanted a midwife and a home birth. However, until I found a midwife, I began my maternity care with my gynecologist. After my first visit, I knew we had a deep divide in our view of birth. (My doctor actually told me that having an epidural was just like natural birth because you were awake throughout the birth.)

As women, we need to advocate for ourselves in our medical care, whether it is our gynecological, obstetric or general medical care. We need to use our voices and speak up for ourselves to make sure we get the care we need and deserve. Martine Ehrenclou wrote The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get the Best Medical Care, which was published in May (Lemon Grove Press, 2012). In her book, Ehrenclou reminds us to be partners in our own care, and to develop a “team” of sorts. Especially when we face a long term or serious diagnosis, or we’re in the process of determining a diagnosis, we need support and assistance from others more than ever.

Having a friend, spouse or family member accompany you may help you speak up. You can be reminded to ask particular questions, and your friend may validate feelings you have about a doctor. More than ever, we need to view physicians and health care providers as members of our health care team, a team for which we are the captains. We need to be able to rely on our care providers like teammates, and they must exhibit the same traits we’d seek in team members: trustworthiness, a mutual respect and the ability to communicate, which is both our ability to communicate with them and their ability to be heard by us.

Ehrenclou reminds readers that when visiting any other professional, we’d have records with us, a description of our situation and be ready participants to the remedy of the situation. She is right. If we seek our accountant for an issue, we bring W-2 forms, 1099s, prior tax returns, receipts and bank statements along with other paperwork. If we see an attorney about an issue, we make sure we also have whatever paperwork might support the case or provide evidence. We’re used to being in control of other situations, and we need to be as active in our healthcare as we are in other areas of life.

In light of all the changes taking place through legislation of health insurance and health care, we must all be aware of and knowledgeable about what is and isn’t covered and what everything costs. Women typically take care of themselves last, and put their family’s needs before their own. We can be good role models to friends, children and our family members by being strong self-advocates in our own health care.


Kate Robinson
Kate Robinson, M.A. adult learning and development, is a Master's in Social Work candidate at Bridgewater State University. She lives south of Boston with her family. Kate enjoys writing, reading, collage and felting. She also works in medical education and as a counselor at a women's health clinic.
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