How do I advocate for myself as a patient?

by Bianca Velasco, Open Arms Marketing Director | October 9, 2022

woman wearing gray jacket

Whether you are attending a routine check-up, a virtual consult, or at the ER, knowing how to self-advocate can help you receive the best possible health outcomes. This blog outlines five steps patients can take to practice self-advocacy.

What is Self-Advocacy in Healthcare?

All patients have a right to feel confident and comfortable in their interactions with healthcare professionals. Researchers define self-advocacy as the ability to seek, assess, and use information to promote one’s health. Regardless of health status, it is important for patients to take an active role in their healthcare and make informed decisions.

5 Steps to advocate for yourself in healthcare 

1. Prepare an agenda or a list of concerns before your appointment

To build your self-advocacy skills, learning how to communicate your needs is the first step. To better communicate your medical concerns, preparation can help. Prior to your upcoming appointment, list out the reasons why you are seeking medical help. This can be a list of symptoms that you are experiencing and certain questions you may be concerned about. Here is a list of great questions to ask on your next appointment. Once you have your list, make sure to rank or highlight your priorities. This will help you budget your time and address critical needs first.

For some, it may be easy to write these items down while some may need the help of their trusted loved one to communicate these questions and feelings. Other times, it can be a combination of both, along with other avenues. Know what works for your and your situation.

As a patient, you have the right to get transparent and unbiased information about your health.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and actively participate in your appointment

Visiting the doctor can feel overwhelming. However, remember that it is your appointment. Your active participation can help turn your appointment to a productive one.

Taking notes in your next appointment can help you remember the things that you need to know. If there is something that your doctor said that you do not understand, do not hesitate to ask questions. If something is uncomfortable, do not be afraid to speak up. 

If you would be more comfortable, bring a trusted family or friend to your next appointment. They can write down the recommendations and other important details for you so you can focus on asking questions and getting the help you need.

3. Know your rights as a patient

As a patient, you have the right to get transparent and unbiased information about your health. To advocate successfully for yourself, it is critical 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 include:

4. Seek a Second Opinion

Acquiring a second opinion can be important if you feel that you are not diagnosed correctly or you believe that you are not receiving the proper treatment. You can ask your current family doctor for a referral to a related specialist, or you can also switch family doctors. Alberta Health Services has resources on finding a new family doctor here. 

Alternatively, you can consider contacting a private clinic. Private clinics are available in the event a patient has exhausted their resources. However, there are out-of-pocket fees associated with private clinics.

5. Find support from agencies and not-for-profit organizations

Self-advocacy is a skill and it can take time to practice. However, you are not alone. There are numerous agencies and organizations that can aid a patient in gaining knowledge and receiving support when they have been given a diagnosis.

The government also 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 directions to the proper agency.

There are also many not-for-profits organizations that focus on helping patients with specific situations or conditions These organizations specialize in medical problems and can direct a patient to the proper support and treatment. Some examples include MS Society, Alberta Cancer Foundation, CUPS, and Safelink Alberta.

How can Open Arms Advocacy Help?

We advocate for a wide array of patient issues from emergency room care, senior care, women’s health, mental health and acute care to medical fatalities. We help patients get a second opinion, find a physician, place a complaint or access medical documents. Open Arms also helps families of patients with guidance, support and resources to get the answers they require.

If you need a patient advocate, please contact us at or fill out our intake form.