How to advocate for yourself when seeking medical treatment

Posted: May 05 2023

Navigating the healthcare system can be difficult, especially when you are not feeling your best. Sometimes, it can feel like you are going from appointment to appointment with no real progress. We want you to feel confident and supported to get the best value in your interactions with the healthcare system. Here are some ways you can advocate for yourself to get the healthcare you need.

Your fundamental rights

All Australians have seven fundamental rights under the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights. These are:

  • access
  • safety
  • respect
  • partnership
  • information
  • privacy
  • feedback

What this means is that you have the right to self-advocacy and open communication with healthcare professionals. While we know that doctors are experts in their field and provide a valuable service, you have a right to communicate what feels right for your body and your situation as the patient.

Why is self-advocacy important?

Practising self-advocacy and open communication with healthcare professionals helps to ensure you get the right treatment and best health outcomes.

Being an advocate for your own healthcare can include:

  • speaking up for yourself and the things that are important to you
  • understanding the health system and details of your medical treatment
  • asking to see a different provider if you are unhappy or want a second opinion
  • ensuring you have time to consider and make decisions, and
  • asking questions about whether more tests or procedures are really necessary.

How to practice self-advocacy

Sometimes it can be hard to speak up when you are facing a health crisis or find yourself in an unusual or intense situation. Mentally preparing for this scenario can help you feel more confident and self-assured when the time comes.

  1. Write down any points that you want to discuss with your healthcare provider during your appointment. If you feel like your questions or concerns are not being heard, then reiterate this point. See: 5 questions to ask your doctor before booking surgery > What to expect from your specialist appointment and topics to discuss >
  2. Ask your healthcare provider to clarify what certain medical terms mean, or ask them to explain it to you in another way. You could say ‘Can I confirm I have understood this correctly?’ If you are still unsure, ask them to write it down or draw a diagram for you so you can research it, or ask a friend later. If English is not your first language, then you have the right to ask for an interpreter.
  3. Take notes at your appointment. Some medical appointments can include a lot of information that you are expected to remember and act on, so remember to bring a pen and paper or take notes on your phone. It is a good idea to repeat back any instructions you need to follow so that you know you understand. It is important to say if you feel confused or uncomfortable.
  4. Talk openly with your healthcare provider about your unique situation. This will help them to better understand your needs and concerns, as well as ensure you receive the relevant information to help you make more informed choices.
  5. If you’re talking about a procedure, ask for a written breakdown of all costs associated with it and Medicare Benefit Schedule (MBS) item numbers. If you think your quote is too expensive, you are within your rights to seek a second opinion. Sometimes this can be as easy as ringing another surgeon’s rooms with your MBS item numbers and asking what they charge, or asking for another referral from your GP practice.
  6. If you find you have a few things you need to discuss with your healthcare provider, then ask to book a longer appointment time so you can do this without feeling rushed.
  7. If you are feeling nervous about talking to your healthcare provider, bring someone with you that you trust to help speak on your behalf or to support you.

We are here to help you navigate the process, call us on 1300 113 113. We can suggest questions to ask your specialist, help you understand what’s covered under your hospital cover, and how to save on out-of-pocket costs.

Going to Hospital? We can help you navigate what you need to know and do before, during and after hospital.

Find out more

Posted: May 05 2023


The information contained here is of a general nature and does not take into account your personal medical situation. The information is not a substitute for independent professional medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or used for therapeutic purposes. Should you require specific medical information, please seek advice from your healthcare practitioner. Health Partners does not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information provided. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them.

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