Turning Knowledge Into Action: Being an Effective Advocate

Steps you can take to be a more effective advocate for your child.

By Lisa C. Greene, co-author of Parenting Children with Health Issues

Sue has a serious chronic medical condition and visits many different doctors each month. She is on top of her medical situation and sometimes brings in new research papers to discuss with her team. When a new doctor prescribed her a medication without explaining what and why, she gently but firmly told him, "I am happy to follow doctor's orders as long as I understand them. When would be a good time to answer my questions?" 

Sue is an advocate. She seeks accurate medical facts and information. She empowers herself with knowledge. But knowledge is only half of the story. What good is knowledge without wisdom? Wisdom is knowing how to use knowledge effectively. 

Sue sees herself and her doctors as a team. She believes in a collaborative approach to her medical care. But her style is not without conflict. There have been times when busy doctors with a brusque bedside manner didn't particularly like being "second-guessed." But Sue has a great way about her and it's hard not to like her. She is able to detect when she is starting to get some resistance and goes into her "Conflict Resolution Mode": 

  1. Show empathy and understanding for the other person's position. "Ohhh, it looks like you are super busy today and probably don't have time for my questions. I can understand that."
  2. State your position using "AND" and "I" language: "And I can take much better care of myself if I understand the reasons behind your decisions here."
  3. Suggest alternatives: "Is there a time that we could talk about this later by phone or even email? I won't take much of your time, I promise. I just have a few basic questions about what you are suggesting. Thank you for being willing to help me out."

Sue is a successful advocate for her healthcare because:

  1. She is knowledgeable about her medical condition. She actively seeks accurate information from reliable sources.
  2. She stands up for herself and isn't afraid to be assertive.
  3. She is calm and respectful even in the face of resistance or conflict.
  4. She doesn't take abrupt (some say "rude") medical professionals personally.
  5. She is not demanding or threatening.
  6. She doesn't tell others what they have to do but instead shares what her needs are.
  7. She understands that having an effective approach is in her own best interest so she works hard at learning good communication skills.
  8. She tries to be appreciative of the doctor's knowledge and expertise (even if she doesn't like the doctor as a person).
  9. She understands that being an advocate is not the same as being pushy or aggressive.
  10. She uses a collaborative approach to solving problems.

Sue knows that her good health is ultimately up to her and the choices she makes. And, as an effective advocate, she is prepared and empowered to make good decisions that will impact her life, and those who love her, for years to come.

Lisa Greene is the author of several books on and for special needs children. She is the mother of two children with cystic fibrosis and a parent coach. Together, Foster Cline, M.D. and Lisa C. Greene are the authors of the book Parenting Children with Health Issues: Essential Tools, Tips and Tactics for Raising Kids with Chronic Illness, Medical Conditions and Other Special Needs. Their website is www.ParentingChildrenWithHealthIssues.com