How to Effectively Advocate for Your Medical Care when You Are in Pain

Pain is quite common in our lives and, for some people, it is a constant. Unfortunately, pain is not a well-defined term because everyone experiences it differently. While one person may stub their toe and experience excruciating pain, someone else may only feel mild discomfort. Because pain is so subjective, it is often necessary to convince health care providers that the pain you are experiencing is real and beyond your ability to tolerate.

Self-advocacy is a crucial tool for chronic pain patients who often do not have an obvious underlying condition. You are the only one who feels the pain, so it is up to you to communicate its severity to your doctor; otherwise, your doctor may assume that the pain is manageable, your issue is psychological, or you are merely seeking potent drugs.

What Is Self-Advocacy?

Simply put, self-advocacy is backing yourself. By emphasizing your feelings and experiences, you are taking a leadership role in your own medical care, rather than allowing your physician to make all the major decisions. This does not mean being pushy, but it does often include setting the agenda so that your care provider will address all the health issues pertinent to you.

Of course, self-advocacy begins with an open and honest dialogue. This communication should be predicated on the fact that your doctor appreciates input from you because it narrows the health care options presented to you. Most health care professionals enjoy robust dialogue about health issues as it prevents wasted time and effort and focuses treatment.

You may be from a culture that does not like to talk about pain, but you should make every effort to open up about such issues. Ignoring the issue will not make it disappear, and it could progress into a much worse condition if not properly addressed. Ultimately, only you can disclose how much pain you are in.

Keep a Pain Diary

If you experience ongoing pain, it is important to monitor and record your daily pain experiences. Write down the intensity of the pain as well as any distinguishing features like burning, itching, tingling or numbness. You should also keep track of any stimuli that might have triggered it including foods, smells, or bright lights.

A pain diary can help convince your doctor that your pain is a real condition as well as provide unique insights into the nature of your pain. Even if you see your doctor on a pain-free day, you can still point to other days in the recent past in which there was disruptive or debilitating pain. A wider window into your pain condition can help your physician develop a more comprehensive overview of your pain and, consequently, a more personalized plan for your recovery.

Learn about Pain Research

If you obtain, at least, a basic understanding of pain medicine including key concepts, conventional therapies, and emerging research, you can speak with your doctor much more effectively. You may want to begin with the latest on how to talk to your health care provider about pain by visiting advocacy groups like the International Association for the Study of Pain.

By learning about the latest treatment options, you can take a more active role in your pain management. You may find that a new therapy is ideal for your condition and bring it to the attention of your care team, or you may discover that it is not appropriate for you. In either case, it should help convince your physician that you are committed to your recovery.

Explain the Effects of Your Pain

Your health care provider has probably asked you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10.  This is a standard medical practice that is intended to help the health care professional learn how much pain you are experiencing. In general, this is a helpful tool, but it is often insufficient in describing the effects of your pain.

While the pain scale may provide a rudimentary insight into how intense your pain symptoms are, it probably does not detail how it is impacting your daily life. You should take the time to explain to your doctor how the pain is interfering with social, professional, and daily activities, so they can tailor a management plan that addresses these issues.

Recognize and Counteract Bias

Everyone, including physicians and other health care professionals, have bias that frames their decisions. Studies show that some doctors are less likely to take seriously women, transgender individuals, and racial minorities.  It is unfortunate, but it is common for doctors to dismiss the concerns of the mentally ill or obese more readily than other patients.

Sometimes, these biases are based on institutionalized thinking, but others may derive from personal experiences that are unfairly applied to a broader population. What is important, however, is acknowledging that you are in one of these marginalized groups and taking steps to neutralize any potential bias from care providers.

One of the best ways to neutralize bias is to shine a spotlight on it. You should not be afraid to bring up the subject of your marginalized status and ask if your health care team may deliver care differently as a result. You may want to bring up statistics of probable outcomes for people within your population and discuss how to avoid them in your case.

Bring Support

If you have difficulty convincing your doctor that your pain is real, ask a friend or family member to accompany you on your next visit. This person should be intimately familiar with your pain symptoms and the daily challenges they create. It may also be helpful if they are a trustworthy or persuasive individual who is willing to verify that your condition is real.

This kind of support is especially helpful if you are not the kind of person who expresses pain or discomfort through facial or body language. They can confirm that you are experiencing difficulties due to pain even if there is no outward expression of discomfort.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.