How To Navigate A Healthcare System That Doesn’t See Your Pain

I used to catch myself fantasizing about taking my life.

I’d be driving and I’d just see myself smashing my car into walls. It freaked me out. Then one day a Facebook friend posted a study about suicide ideation being a side effect of the nerve pain medication he was on and everything clicked — because I was on it too. I immediately made an appointment with my neurologist about the side effects I was dealing with. When I told her, she didn’t find it to be a cause for concern. I was astonished and also weary. After years of having my worries brushed off by medical professionals, this encounter was the last straw for me.

From being misdiagnosed, mistreated, dismissed (a physiotherapist once told me there was nothing wrong with me and I needed a psychologist) and even left in great physical pain following treatment at one point, this conversation made me realize that I was never going to heal if I let others have the final say in regard to my care. Back then I didn’t even know that Black people receive lower quality healthcare than white people because of implicit racial bias in medicine, but I was being impacted by such realities.

It was in taking control of my journey and advocating for myself in a strategic way that I was able to finally get proper care and support. With the lessons I learned in mind, the following are a few ways to navigate the healthcare system in a productive manner, especially if you’re Black.

Interview Your Medical Professionals

Research their background. Do a disciplinary records search and address any concerns during your first meeting. Watch how they respond and seek out experts who are comfortable with accountability, who listen to you and are willing to work with you to achieve the best possible outcome for your situation.

Ask the Important Questions

When they make recommendations, ask the following:

  • Why their suggestion is the best option for you
  • Whether it’s a long or short-term recommendation. Push for a long-term holistic approach
  • About negative and rare side effects
  • About health outcomes for your ethnic group specifically. If they don’t know (they likely won’t for BIPOC), push them to find out. It’s their job to make the best possible recommendation for you.

Do Your Research

Research all prescribed medications and therapies, specifically checking for information on how effective they have been for BIPOC. Ask your doctor as many questions as you need to for your peace of mind.

Always Get Receipts

If you make a request and your doctor denies it, or you raise a concern and they dismiss it, ask them to note it in your file. Unfortunately, they seem to be more concerned with paper trails and possible litigation than coming up with custom solutions for indigenous bodies, but always keep track of your receipts anyway.

Keep Everyone Informed

If you’re working with multiple medical professionals, ensure that they’re sharing information and all have a complete picture of your condition. You can do this by personally bringing your records to appointments or completing a medical release form that allows them to share information. Regardless of the form, they may not follow up, so push them to view all medical records related to your health concerns.

Get a Second Opinion (If Necessary)

Prior to getting any invasive procedures, consider seeking out a second opinion. There may be a less aggressive option with better long-term health outcomes available to you. Also, ask the doctor for data on their performance, in particular, their complication rates.

Own Your Personal Records

For your convenience, keep your own personal medical records. Requesting a copy at the time of service is ideal, even if they’ll need to mail them to you. Alternatively, you can request your entire file once you’re done with treatment, but you may have to pay a fee. Having your own records also means that you won’t have to deal with delays in service if you switch providers.

Never Give Up

I went through a lot of doctors but using the aforementioned methods, I eventually found conscious practitioners who genuinely want me to heal. Never give up. Keep seeking a solution. Even if you need to take a break from dealing with the bureaucracy and disappointment, take that time to reset. But set calendar reminders to get back to it because the sooner you begin the right treatment for you, the better. And trust me, it’s out there.

Nantale Muwonge is a marketing strategist and the founder of Black Girl PR™. After a car accident changed her outlook on life, she quit corporate America to pursue a more sustainable and healthy way to be and sharing what she’s learned on the journey is a part of that.

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