Communicating with Your Healthcare Team
Last updated: June 2023
You’re sitting in a chair, anxiously awaiting information from your doctor, answering their questions while he or she stares at a screen and is quickly out of the room. This concept of healthcare is something we’re all very familiar with in the 21st century. I personally have had the feeling of being in and out of a doctor’s office, quickly or after waiting for what seems like hours, and not spending quality time with my doctor. Because of that feeling, which is often a reality, it’s important that as educated consumers we can truly understand how to maximize the opportunity we have to speak with members of our healthcare team. In addition, we need to be able to understand what they are actually saying.
Four Key Tips
Build a Relationship: You should try to be open and honest with your healthcare team regarding your goals of care, treatment plan, as well as the possible symptoms and side effects.
Staying in Touch: You are entitled to make additional appointments or contact your healthcare team between visits if you have questions.
Ensure access: Find out how to contact the medical facility where you are receiving care. Take business cards, access the website of the institution, and local resources.
Continuity: Put your primary care provider (PCP) in touch with your oncologist so they are up to date on your cancer care and vice versa.
The Players on Your Team
In terms of the cancer experience, the healthcare team is often very large, which can sometimes make things more confusing. Your team will include different people depending on whether or not you are receiving certain types of treatment. Additionally, depending on the facility where you are getting treatment, you may see doctors in multiple practices or locations. Doctors can include an oncologist, pain and palliative care specialist, radiation oncologist, and a radiologist.
Nursing is also a critical component of your team. Nurses work together with your doctor and other team members and are often front-line members of your team. For example, if you are receiving home nursing, these nurses are able to be the eyes and ears in the home. They’re able to assess safety in the home as well as keep in touch in real time with the office about possible symptoms and side effects. Radiation techs, if you’re receiving radiation, and medical assistants are other members of your team you often get to know very well as you see them throughout treatment.
Depending on where you are treated you may have many additional members of your team to provide you support throughout your cancer treatment. This could include a social worker, a financial counselor, a nutritionist, a psychologist or psychiatrist, a pharmacist, etc. Some of these individuals have overlapping roles or in some institutions, one individual may cover several roles– for example, your social worker may also play the part of a financial counselor.
Finally, it’s important to remember that you, and your family and friends, are integral parts of the team. You need to be an equal player and partner to receive the best care from everyone else involved.
Communicating During Appointments
Medical appointments are the opportunity to have face time with your healthcare team, so it is really important you are prepared for them. In between visits with your team think about what you’d like to address at upcoming visits. If you need an interpreter, plan for that and let your team know in advance if you have difficulty communicating in English. Some facilities are able to provide interpretation services for you.
If possible, bring notes with you to your appointments. These will help you focus on your most important needs and not forget issues that have been bothering you since your last appointment. In advance of your appointments, write down anything that has been on your mind. If helpful, ask your caregiver to keep a list of issues as well.
When you get to know all the players on your healthcare team, build relationships, and prepare for your appointments, you will be able to communicate better with your team as well.
Beside manner matters! What has your experience been?