The term “advocacy” holds different meanings for different people. When you are a person living with chronic illness, advocating for your health needs, for safe and effective care, and for affordable access to therapies, become a part of your everyday life. That’s according to Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development Shaina Smith, who says advocacy begins with the person living with chronic pain and can expand into the doctor’s office, to insurance coverage plans, and to state and federal policy.

“Each person living with a chronic illness has this incredible power to use their story and experiences to shape public perception, change how their condition is being managed, and inspire legislation beneficial to children and adults with an invisible condition,” Smith explains. “It’s important for us all to realize that our diagnosis has given us this ability to help ourselves and others, if we’re willing to take the time to learn about the resources and tools available and embrace opportunities to speak up and speak out.”

Smith breaks down the major categories where patients and caregivers can advocate for their health, molding their optimum health plan while improving the lives of all Americans riddled with a lasting diagnosis.

The doctor’s office—Patients who are active participants when at their appointments by asking questions and bringing their own resources and information do better biologically, experiencing improved quality of life.[1] Make a list of questions before each appointment and take notes as you talk with your doctor. Keep in mind what your goals for the visit are to try to stay on track and make the most of your appointment time.

Insurance companies—Knowing there are steps a beneficiary can take when denied coverage from their insurer allows patients to fight back against cost-saving practices which delay treatment, or worse, cause disease progression. Smith notes families and individuals always have the option to appeal the decision made by insurance companies. The next time you receive a denial letter from your health plan, understand your right to an internal appeal and/or external review.

At the state or national level—Utilizing U.S. Pain’s interactive tools and taking advantage of its online engagements, individuals can learn about issues impacting Americans with chronic conditions. These resources also teach interested patients and caregivers how to request that their elected officials strengthen patient protection laws, break down existing access barriers, and uphold the right to experience an overall better quality of life. To sign up as a U.S. Pain advocate, click here.

For a more in-depth look at ways to advocate for your health and the lives of others, join the upcoming webinar, “The Advocate Inside of You: Helpful tools to Combat Today’s Patient Challenges.


[1] Kaplan S. Patient Activation. Washington, DC: 1997. Presented at Royal College of Medicine symposium on Doctor Patient Communication.