Faith and Health Partnerships
Being Our Own Best Advocates
Patient Self-Advocacy: Taking Charge of our Care
October 21, 2021

We all want to feel satisfied with our healthcare, but may feel unempowered to ask our doctor questions, seek a second opinion, or even change practitioners if we are unhappy with our care.

According to a report, “Instead of acting as a passive recipient, many people now see themselves as active participants in the purchase and application of healthcare. They are selecting skilled professionals to be part of their healthcare team, and they want to partner with these providers.”

This special issue on patient self-advocacy offers resources and tips you can share with members of your faith community on ways they can advocate for themselves and actively participate in their healthcare.

When we find a compatible practitioner, and take a proactive role in our care, we are sure to find the satisfaction and high-quality healthcare we all deserve.
Tips to find the right provider

According to a report, “A critical aspect of taking charge of your health is being a vital member of the healthcare team. You are a partner with your providers in your healthcare. You need to actively participate in treatment decisions, make sure you know your options, recognize the underlying causes of your health conditions, and understand what you need to do.”

Faith leaders can help members find a compatible primary care doctor by encouraging them to:

  • Begin their search with their health insurance to find out what clinics and providers are available to them.

  • Check out providers’ qualifications. Do they want a board-certified specialist? Someone who has many years of experience or who has performed numerous procedures? 

  • Interview several practitioners. Do they take the time to listen, answer their questions, and learn about their needs and goals? What is their philosophy of care? Does it fit with theirs?
Tips to make the most of health appointments

Faith leaders can help members make the most of their health appointments by encouraging them to:

  • Explain the reason for their visit when scheduling an appointment, so they are given the right amount of time to discuss their concern.

  • Take along a list of their medications, a copy of their healthcare records, and the results of previous tests and procedures when seeing a new provider.

  • Write down their goals for the appointment.

  • Ask clarifying questions. Remind them not to leave until they understand test results or what they need to do next.

  • Bring a companion with them if they are feeling anxious, have a language barrier, or are facing a serious diagnosis. Ask their companion to take notes so they have a record of their discussion or care received.
High-quality healthcare begins with choosing the right medical team

By Sue Quever, Advocate Aurora Health Faith Community Nurse at Lord of Life Lutheran Church and St. Mary’s Lutheran Church, Kenosha, Wis.

We all have a right to competent, appropriate, and quality healthcare. And that begins by choosing the right medical team: you and your doctor. The doctor-patient relationship is like two experts meeting together. Patients are like CEOs of their bodies. They know their medical backgrounds, symptoms, and medication history. And the doctor comes in with medical expertise.

When you look for a new car or home, you probably have a wish list. Remember: you are more important than those things! What is important to you in a healthcare provider? Make a list by answering some of these basic questions: Is the doctor’s office in a safe neighborhood? Is the office close to your home? If not, does public transportation allow you to get there on your own or will you need to rely on others to get there?

Interview prospective physicians. Share what is important to you. Are they attentive to your needs and informed? Do you have a rapport?
After choosing a practitioner, make the most of your visits:

Advocate for yourself. If you have “white coat hypertension” and get extremely nervous when you go to the doctor’s office, ask if you could sit a while before you get your blood pressure taken. If you’ve had a sexual assault, share that before getting a Pap smear, so the staff is sensitive to your needs.

Be prepared. Write down your goals for the appointment. Share your symptoms, concerns, and questions. Have a list of your medications handy. Ask about possible side effects and interactions with foods and other medicines.

Bring a companion with you to your appointment. Four ears are better than two, especially if you’ve just received a diagnosis and may not take in everything the doctor tells you.

Advocating for yourself and taking the time to find a doctor who is right for you, will help ensure you receive the quality healthcare you deserve.

How can faith leaders promote patient self-advocacy?

In her practice, Advocate Aurora Health Faith Community Nurse Sue Quever has seen firsthand the ways faith leaders promote patient self-advocacy by:

  • Modeling healthy habits themselves: eating a nutritious diet, exercising, and taking time away from the demands of their ministry.
  • Reminding congregants they are worthy of quality healthcare. “If someone is uncomfortable about a diagnosis, suggest they get a second opinion,” she said. “If they are unhappy with their current care, recommend they look for a new provider.”
  • Including messages in sermons and other communications about the importance of caring for their bodies, “the Temple God has given you, so you could do good things for others,” she said.
Advance care planning as patient self-advocacy

by Rev. Ashley Whitaker, Chaplain Fellow for Ethics for Advocate Aurora Health and a Staff Chaplain focused on Staff Support and Palliative Care at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL.

Advance Care Planning is the process by which individuals carefully consider their values and beliefs and put those commitments into dialogue with their health care plan. This conversation often leads to important legal documents, such as a Power of Attorney for Health Care, which help guide loved ones and care team members in providing care that aligns with what someone holds most dear. Through Advance Care Planning, individuals engage in a powerful form of self-advocacy by ensuring that their care plan honors their autonomous choices as a patient and as a whole person. The ethical principle of respect for autonomy is the source of “individual empowerment and self-determination in health care.” (Handbook for Health Care Ethics Committees, Post and Blustein). When we as individuals provide guidance to our agents and decision makers through Advance Care Planning, we ensure that our autonomy continues throughout our lifetime. Thorough Advance Care Planning both relies on and fosters a robust sense of self-advocacy.

As those created in the very image of God, our whole lives are shaped by our faith in God. As Psalm 139 proclaims, there is nowhere we can go apart from God’s presence, and all the days of our lives are known to God. Advance Care Planning provides an invaluable opportunity to live out our beliefs in a spirit of stewardship. Through Advance Care Planning, we can offer peace to our loved ones by sharing intentionally about our values and providing a way for them to faithfully carry out our wishes, especially during serious illnesses and at the end of life.

Especially given our values of excellence, compassion, and respect and our mission of Helping People Live well, we at Advocate Aurora Health have committed ourselves to improving Advance Care Planning services for all constituents. One initiative related to this commitment is the Advance Care Planning and Shared Decision Making in Serious Illness program. The Community Engagement task force of this program would greatly appreciate your help in our work. We have developed a survey to learn more about how to align care with your wishes, values, and preferences. It should only take a few minutes of your time, and your feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your time and be well!
The importance of self-care through cancer prevention and screening 

By Carol Huibregtse, Manager, Clinical Cancer Service Line, Advocate Aurora Health
Dawn Shelton-Williams, Quality Specialist and WWWP-Social Work Navigator, Advocate Aurora Health
Jennifer Jarvey Balistreri, Community Impact Coordinator, Senior, Aurora Cancer Care

The current pandemic environment has set a new stage for how we have prioritized our health. As we have worked to support one another throughout the past 19 months, one thing has hopefully remained the same: our health and wellbeing is a priority.

Now is the time to put your own health advocacy into action by scheduling a cancer screening appointment and encouraging those around you to do the same. Did you know? The top cancer screenings you need to speak to your health provider about are breast, cervical, colon, lung, and prostate cancers. 

Cancer screening has been part of preventive care for years.  And it has paid off. Over the last few decades, there has been a significant decline in cancer deaths in the U.S. due to early detection, smoking cessation efforts, and improved cancer treatments.  And from 1991 to 2017, the cancer death rate fell 29%, resulting in 2.9 million fewer deaths.
Decreased Screenings During Pandemic
Unfortunately, the COVID 19 pandemic will significantly influence the future of cancer rates and we will not know the true impact for years to come.  While new cancer rates will probably be decreased in 2020, it will not be due to the fact there is less cancer.  One study reported through Cancer Facts and Figures 2021 – Special Section: COVID-19, showed a 46% decline in the diagnosis of the six most common cancers (breast, colorectal, lung, pancreas, stomach, and esophagus) from March 1 to April 18, 2020, due to the lack of screening.  

Other Barriers to Screenings
The American Cancer Society reports that living in segregated communities and areas highly populated with people of color have shown further barriers to care for cancer screening; meaning that cancers will be more difficult to treat as they have progressed to late stages within those who reside in these communities.

October is Health Literacy Month
Health Literacy Month is a time when health organizations, literacy programs, libraries, social service agencies, and other groups work together to integrate and expand the mission of health literacy – to build a world where all individuals have access to quality health outcomes.

The National Institutes of Health defines health literacy as "the degree to which individuals have the ability to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others."

Did you know?

  • Nine out of 10 adults struggles to understand and use health information when it is unfamiliar, complex or jargon-filled.
  • Limited health literacy costs the healthcare system money and results in higher than necessary morbidity and mortality.
  • Health literacy can be improved if we practice clear communication strategies and techniques.
  • Clear communication means using familiar concepts, words, numbers and images presented in ways that make sense to the people who need the information. (CDC)

What is Advocate Aurora Health doing about health literacy?

The Advocate Aurora Health Patient Education department has a Health Literacy/Plain Language team comprised of team members and patient representatives that meets to review and edit AAH resources for readability.

Effective communication between patients and their health care is a critical component of safe, quality care.

Advocate Aurora Language Services offers video remote interpreting, over-the-phone interpreting, and written translation services to help patients better communicate with their healthcare team in a language they understand.

The Language Services team delivers language assistance to patients representing more than 240 languages, with various cultural beliefs, values, and traditions. Patients can access services 24/7/365 free of charge.
Orientation to the Advocate Aurora Local Services Guide
Nov. 4, 11:00 a.m.-noon

Ever have a congregational member look to you for a referral for services? Or have a family that needs extra support and you aren’t sure where to send them? Need to know more about programs that are available in the neighborhood you are serving? Advocate Aurora Health recognizes the need for an up-to-date, reliable, tested list of community services that are easily accessed with a click of a button.

The Advocate Aurora Health Local Services Guide, powered by NowPow, allows you to find free and low-cost options for food, safe housing, child care, transportation and more.

Join us for this orientation to learn how to use this resource and how it can help you support the people you serve. It’s provided free-of-charge to you!

The University of Minnesota offers this resource as part of its "Taking Charge of your Health & Wellbeing" series. The report includes worksheets and timely information on such topics as:

  • Why take charge?
  • What's my role?
  • Find a good provider
  • Communicate effectively
  • Create a personal health record

According to the report, "Taking charge of your healthcare can save money, increase satisfaction in healthcare, improve outcomes, be empowering, enhance quality of life, and save time."

A Consumer Guide for Filing Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Appeals

Treating diseases of the brain is as important as treating any physical ailment or condition. Yet, the health insurance system in the United States has never covered mental health and substance use disorders (MH/SUDs) appropriately. As a result, depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health conditions often go unaddressed, leading to poor clinical outcomes and increased spending on the medical/surgical side of health care. Historically high rates of suicides and overdoses in this country are evidence of our failure to properly acknowledge, prioritize and treat MH/SUDs.

This Guide details important information that consumers, providers and other stakeholders need to know when filing appeals for denials of MH/SUD treatment and related services. The publication was written by leading health insurance experts to help educate individuals about their appeal rights and explain the steps in the appeals process.

The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) believes that cancer becomes a much lesser foe when faced by an individual who is informed and knowledgeable and who knows how to communicate their needs to those who can be helpful to them as they experience cancer.

This handbook is intended to help you become such an individual – a cancer advocate – to lessen the fear, dispel the myths, and reduce the anxiety, so that you can make the best decisions about your survivorship.

The National Institute on Aging offers links to articles and worksheets to help you prepare for a medical appointment, discuss sensitive topics, manage your medications, choose a new doctor, and coordinate help from family caregivers.


  • and more!

Download infographic (right) here.

Patients have a right under the federal law known as HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) to access their health records.

Easy access to your health records puts you in control of decisions regarding your health and well-being. You can monitor your health conditions better, understand and stay on track with treatment plans, and find and fix errors in your record.

See infographics and videos to help you understand your rights and how to work with your providers to get, check, and use your health information.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality offers Questions Are the Answer, a message that highlights the vital role patients and families can play as part of their own healthcare teams.

Includes "The 10 Questions You Should Know," Be More Engaged in Your Healthcare," and information about the QuestionBuilder App.

Also includes shareable resources, including "Do You Know the Right Questions to Ask?", "Next Steps After Your Diagnosis," and "Your Medicine: Be Smart. Be Safe."
Download and share these bulletin inserts & worship slide
Patient Self-Advocacy Bulletin insert
PDF and Word

Patient Self-Advocacy Worship slide
Want to hear from you!

We hope you find this update helpful as you promote the health of your members and community. Please contact Cindy Novak if you have questions or topics you'd like us to address. Thank you!
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