Self-Advocacy Tips

The healthcare system can be overwhelming, intimidating, and difficult to navigate. To receive the best health care possible, self-advocacy is an important and necessary skill. All patients have a right to feel confident and comfortable in the care that they receive. One of the most important qualities in self-advocacy is persistence. If you do not feel that you have been given the proper treatment, you have a right to speak up and express your feelings. It is important to be persistent without being disrespectful, aggressive, or demeaning. Respectful persistence will pay off!

Patient issues within the health system can vary widely such as an inability to access a family physician, lack of accessibility to specialists, a misdiagnosis, a botched surgery, a person not receiving a diagnosis, and even death.

How to Acquire Your Health Records

Sometimes, events can cause a patient to question the care they have been given. However, before embarking on a trail of complaints and legalities, an important step is sometimes missed: obtaining your health records. Acquiring a copy of your health records can be important for understanding many medical incidents or for just clarifying a situation. There are a variety of avenues one can use in order to get a copy of their medical file.

  • First, a patient can contact the Health Information/Records Management department of almost any hospital. You can request a copy of your health record through these services. A list of hospitals that provide health record services can be found at www.albertahealthservices.ca and search “health records”.
  • The second avenue to obtain your medical file is through your family physician. Speak to you doctor concerning your desire to obtain your file, and they will be able to assist you.

Note that there are fees associated with obtaining a copy of your medical file. Usually, the fees are related to the length of the file. So each patient will be charged according to the number of documents in their file. However, it is well worth the cost and can be vital in getting the answers patients may need.

To Place a Complaint

If a patient is under the belief they are in need of assistance resolving a major issue, one avenue is to place a complaint with the appropriate authority. Complaints can be made to various agencies but here are two major institutions that may assist a patient with their concerns. The first is Alberta Health Services – Patient Relations Department. Complaints can be filed through their Patient Feedback Form that is available on-line. As well, they can be contacted at 1-855-550-2555. The website is www.albertahealthservices.ca/patientfeedback.asp  The second agency is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta. Complaints made to this agency are when a patient has an issue with a specific physician. You can contact the College Patient Advocate by calling 1-800-661-4689 or go to their website which outlines their complaint process. The website is www.cpsa.ab.  Please keep in mind, these avenues are in place to help Alberta patients, so only use them when absolutely necessary and always be respectful.

Change Physicians

In the event you feel your doctor is unable to resolve the medical issues you are experiencing, it may be necessary to change physicians. Sometimes a new perspective from an alternative professional can help greatly. If you believe that is required, a list of physicians accepting new patients can be found at the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta at www.cpsa.ab.ca.  An alternate avenue to finding a new physician can be through a family member. Typically a doctor will accept a new patient if that patient is within the same family.  Ask your family member to contact their doctor and see if they would be willing to accept you as a patient.

Seek a Second Opinion/Misdiagnosed/Undiagnosed

Acquiring a second opinion can be important if the patient is not diagnosed correctly or they believe they are not receiving the proper treatment. Here are a few avenues a patient can take in order to receive the care they feel is needed:

  • Ask your current family doctor for a referral to a related specialist.
  • Switch your family doctors.
  • Contact any related non-profit organizations that may be able to direct you to the proper professionals such as the MS Society, Southern Alberta Brain Injury Society etc.
  • Contact a private clinic. Private clinics are available in the event a patient has exhausted their resources. There are fees associated, however, the doctors have the means to conduct tests and make referrals.
Reach out to Related Organizations

There are numerous agencies that can aid a patient in gaining knowledge and receiving support when they have been given a diagnosis. Taking full advantage of these free agencies can be vital in the health of a patient. These organizations specialize in the medical problem and can direct a patient to the proper support and treatment. A few organizations that may be able to assist include:

  • The government has a wide array of support agencies that can bring clarity to a patient case such as the Office of Seniors Advocates, Alberta Mental Health Patient Advocate Office, or Alberta Health Services to name a few. Contact 310-0000 for direction to the proper agency.
  • Contact local non-profit organizations that specialize in your medical situation. There are numerous agencies that will help a patient with understanding their condition such as the MS Society, CUPS and Calgary Legal Guidance to name a few. These free services can help greatly and direct a patient in effective care.
About Netcare

Netcare is an electronic health record (unified patient record) of your medical history that is available to health care professionals.  Your health record consist of your medical history such as medications, lab results, allergies, diagnostic imaging, hospital visits and personal demographics. Health professionals that can access your records are called custodians and include pharmacists, physicians, nurses, and specialists, to name a few.

1)   If you feel a need to limit access to your file due to privacy concerns, you can MASK your file.  To mask your file go to albertanetcare.com and print the “Application For Masking” form. A custodian within netcare will need to agree to sponsor the masking and fax the application. After your file is masked, it will require permission from you to allow a health professional to access your file. This may result in some minor delays in care due to the requirement of permission. For more information go to albertanetcare.com or call their help desk toll free at 310-0000 or (780) 427-8089.

2) Alternatively, information concerning breaches of privacy, to place a complaint or to understand your rights go to Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Know your Rights

In order to advocate successfully for yourself, it is important to fully understand your rights. Educating yourself in the health care system and the rights of patients can be highly useful in solving issues. Important documents that outline your rights as a patient are;

  • Alberta Health Act (add link)
  • Mental Health Act of Alberta (add link)
  • Canadian Health Act (add link, in Canadian Government website)
  • Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (add link)