Self Advocacy in Western Medicine

Article updated January 10th, 2020.

I think any time you go to the doctor and they tell you a diagnosis, or you get some tests done, you should really do your own research and learn about what it means. Sometimes it can be a matter of life or death.

I will tell you how to do that research here in order to protect yourself.

Doctors are often very busy, seeing many patients in a day, each for only a few minutes at a time, and they can’t keep the endless amounts of knowledge required in the forefront of their brains…so naturally, mistakes can be made. It’s not their fault, and it just happens.

Western Medicine is very great, but in order to be greater, it requires you (the patient) knowing about what’s happening.

If you do your own research, you can help the doctors avoid making mistakes with you. Sometimes you have to speak up, and confront them with your concerns. Sometimes they will fight back a bit, because they are the ones with a medical degree and experience, and you don’t have either.

But if you can demonstrate very good reasons for your genuine concerns, then I expect they will quickly listen and agree.

The Merck Manual professional edition is a great resource I like to use as an East Asian Medicine practitioner, when researching anything related to my patients’ Western Medical diagnoses. It’s freely available online in that link.

It can be difficult to read for someone not trained in medicine, so there’s also this consumer’s version which gives a more basic overview.

But I encourage anyone to try their best to understand their diagnosis in the Merck professional version, since it goes way more in depth. Just type in your diagnosis on that site in the first link, and you’ll get the info you need for free. Spend some time with it, and if any words don’t make sense, look them up.

If you have a diagnosis which is more rare, it might not have its own article in the Merck Manual. You might find yourself needing to do more in depth research of reading actual research papers, such as on PubMed…but a problem with that is many medical journals require a subscription or a huge payment just to view one article. Here’s the way around that: Sci Hub. Just type in the URL or the DOI of the article you want to read, and 80% of the time you’ll be able to access it in full, for free.

An alternative, if that doesn’t work, is to personally contact the authors of the article you want access to. Sometimes researchers will have no problem providing a copy of their work for free when asked privately.

It’s also important to understand any lab values you get when being tested. Mosby’s Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference is a book that I use to do that. This one isn’t free, but is an affordable book. You can just search for the test in the appendix, then find the page number it’s on and see everything about what it means.

Sometimes a little bit of info can make people “go off the deep end” and think they have lots of health problems that they really don’t. The point in sharing these links is not to cause people to get overwhelmed with information they don’t fully understand.

I just think it’s very important that people self-advocate when it comes to their medicine, so that they can prevent medical errors, which can sometimes be life threatening.

According to researchers at John Hopkins Medicine, Western medical error should rank as the third leading cause of death in the US.

I want to see my acupuncture patients, and everyone I know in my personal life, being safer when they go see the doctor.

So, any time you get a diagnosis and tests done, I highly recommend that you spend your time trying to fully understand what it means. Then speak up to the doctor you’re working with if there is any discrepancy.

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