Advocating for Yourself

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You deserve to have positive and affirming health care experiences where you feel heard and respected. However, assumptions, stereotypes, and biases can impact the experiences you have with your health care provider. While it’s not up to you to educate your health care provider and your treatment shouldn’t depend on your ability to advocate for yourself, sometimes this can make a big difference. 

Here are some things that can help when advocating for yourself: 

  • Bringing someone with you to witness and advocate on your behalf. They can help remember questions you have, name assumptions that may be impacting the care you are getting, and remember details afterwards.
  • If your health care provider only asks yes or no questions, add more information about your personal experience or situation at the end of the yes/no answers. 
  • If your doctor cuts you off when you try to give them a full answer, feel free to interrupt them to finish your thought. This may help make sure that answers can’t be taken out of context and that your entire answer is heard.
  • If you get the sense that your concerns are being brushed off, speak up, saying something like, “Excuse me, I have tried to answer all your questions, but I am still not sure my concerns have been addressed. Can you please help me understand why I have been feeling/experiencing X symptom(s)?”
  • You can ask your health care provider to explain why they are recommending a certain course of action. 
  • If you are requesting a test or specific form of healthcare and your health care provider says no, ask them to make a note in your file that they have refused this particular form of care. This will often make health care providers think twice about refusing you care or will prompt them to share more information about why they have made that decision. 

Making A Complaint

If you still find you are not feeling heard, complaints can often be submitted to:

  • The hospital, clinic or healthcare centre may have a patient advocate or ombudsperson. You can ask the receptionist or health care provider what the process is for making a complaint. 
  • Provincial/Territorial Ministries of Health have an Office of the Ombudsman who helps with complaints or investigating systemic issues happening in healthcare settings.
  • Provincial/Territorial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons can also receive complaints if you have a negative experience with a physician. Other health care providers (nurses, social workers, psychotherapists, etc.) have their own provincial or territorial colleges that can take complaints about their members.

Conscientious Objection - If Your Doctor Says No To Providing A Service

Conscientious objection is when a health care provider refuses to perform particular services because of their personal moral or religious beliefs. Some specific services most often refused are abortion, contraception, and assisted reproduction. 

You may be experiencing conscientious objection if your health care provider is:

  • Outright refusing to provide a service.
  • Refusing to refer you elsewhere to access the service.
  • Creating barriers for you to access the service (e.g., delaying appointments, imposing time to “think it through”).
  • Shaming you for wanting to access or inquire about the service.

Conscientious objection is a serious problem as it can prevent you from getting the care you need. 

Depending on your province, a health care provider may have a right to refuse to provide a service on moral or religious grounds. Regardless, they should give you a timely referral to someone who can provide you that service. 

Sometimes, an entire hospital or healthcare institution will claim that they will not provide certain services because of conscientious objection. This is a violation of patient rights and medical ethics, as institutions don’t have a right to conscientious objection like humans do.

Most health care providers are members of professional colleges, which have rules they have to follow. You can see if they are violating a rule and make a formal complaint to their college.

If you think someone might be denying your services on these grounds, you can call or text our Access Line to find a sexual health clinic or other relevant services in your area.

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