It’s no secret that African-Americans aren’t treated as well as we should be when we go the doctor. Mounds of trusted and well-respected studies have found that we are less likely to be listened to, prescribed painkillers and life-saving meds and more likely to receive less quality care than white patients.
Hearing this news can trigger some serious emotions about our tumultuous past with the medical community—Tuskegee experiments and the jacking of Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells to name a few. But before you go all the way there, just know that having a not-so-empowering experience with your physician doesn’t have to be your destiny.
Here are six tips to ensure that your next appointment better meets your needs.
1. Write down any symptoms or questions you have.
Most of us only have 15 minutes with our doctors, so it’s crucial for you to make that time count. Before you get there, write down anything about your body that may seem off or different, any symptoms or side effects you may be having to any medications you’re taking and for a new doc, a list of every last medication you are on, including vitamins and supplements. This way, you are getting your questions answered and forcing your physician to engage in what you are saying.
But most importantly, make sure that you ask them to repeat everything back to you so you can be clear about what their suggestions and instructions are.
2. Be honest about what is going on.
Here’s the deal: Your doctor may have lots of talents, but being a mind reader isn’t one of them. If you are hiding things from your doctor, such as you are smoker, may do drugs, your sexual orientation or your stress and depression levels, because you are embarrassed, don’t want to be judged or don’t think it’s their business, you could only hurting yourself in the end.
Your doctor really does need this information in order to provide you with the best possible care, screenings and treatment. If you are too ashamed to be upfront with your doc, then this is a key indicator that you need to find a new physician that you trust, because your health depends on it.
3. Be clear about what you want.
No one is taking away the fact that doctors are smart—because they are. But as stated before, they are human and have their own set of biases, especially when it comes to talking about your sexual and reproductive health and asking to be screened for HIV, STDs and for prescriptions for contraception and Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the HIV prevention pill.
Remember: You are entitled to judgment free healthcare where are you not stigmatized or questioned why you may want something like an HIV test. Even though it’s 2016, people still fall through the testing cracks because doctors have preconceived notions about who is at risk and who isn’t. So be sure to open up your mouth and are heard.
4. Interrupt back when you're cut off.
There is a huge difference between being empowered and being obnoxious; and that’s a fine line to navigate with your doctor. While your Web MD obsession is real, you have to know that’s not the same as having a bonafide medical degree. But you don’t need to have a medical degree to know when you’re not being listened to or respected.
If this is happening, it’s totally within your right to let your doctor, nurse or health care provider know that you are not done talking and demand to be listened to. Even if what you’re saying is wrong, your doctor should still show you enough respect to hear you out before they interject with what they have to say. But you also have to be open to listening as well, hence why this is all very tricky. Your health care is not a dictatorship. It’s supposed to a trustworthy relationship in which both parties need to respect one another for the greater good of your health.
5. Know your rights.
If you were discriminated against in your doctor’s office, albeit it in the exam room, at the front desk or in the hallway by another staff worker, do you know what to do? What if your doctor’s office committed a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation by disclosing your personal health information to someone who was not authorized to see those files?
This is why knowing what your rights as a patient and how to file the proper complaint paper are important—so ask! You are entitled to health care that falls within the scope of the law. And if you only complain to your friends or loved ones, and don’t file complaints, the problematic culture in your doctor’s office won’t change.
6. Remember: It’s OK to quit your doctor if you're not happy.
We understand that you’ve been with your doctor for a minute now, but they’re not your spouse (or even your hairdresser or barber). You are not obligated to try to work it out if things are going south. It’s OK to find a different doctor, if you can find one in your network, that will better meet your needs and make you feel better about your health. This is your health and you are entitled to a doctor that respects you, listens to you and empowers you to do better when you leave their office.
Kellee Terrell is an award-winning Chicago-based freelance writer and filmmaker who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Her articles and interviews have been featured in Essence, The Advocate, The Root, Al Jazeera, The Body, Hello Beautiful and The Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @kelleent.