You and Your Health Care Team: Tips to Improve Communication

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Today's blog post was researched and written by CancerCare intern, Alessandra Newton. Alessandra is a Prep for Prep student. She is currently a senior at Syracuse University and is a Biology major. She is a premed student and is interested in obstetrics and gynecology.

When coping with a cancer diagnosis, good communication with your health care team may make a big difference in your care. Communication may build trust between you and your health care team, and improve the level of care you receive. Here are some tips and suggestions to help build a better relationship between you and your health care team:

Before Your Appointment:

Get to know your cancer. Once you know what type of cancer you are diagnosed with, do a little research. Research will help you prepare notes and questions to discuss with your oncologist.

Get to know your health care team. Your health care team includes many people who are equipped with different skills to ease your coping experience. Your team is comprised of oncologists, nurses, social workers, pain specialists, and others who you choose to add to your support team. It is important to remember that you are the most important member of your health care team!

Create a list of important questions. Bringing a list of questions with you to your appointments makes it easier to remember the important questions to ask your health care provider. Ask the most important questions first so that you get as much information as possible. In the beginning of your appointment, inform your doctor if you have a list of questions so they can dedicate time during the appointment to address them. Be brief and specific in your questions.

Bring a friend of a family member to your appointment. Having another person with you can help calm some discomfort you may develop during appointments. Your companion can also help remind you of key points you may have missed, after the appointment is over. Before the appointment, talk to your companion about what they should expect and what is most important to you, so they can ensure that your needs are met.

During Your Appointment

Ask for contact information. Find out if there is someone you can contact in between appointments if an important issue arises. If your doctor is not available, check if there is a nurse or social worker you can contact instead.

Be direct. Doctors are familiar with speaking in medical terms that may be confusing for you. If you struggle to understand the language your doctor uses, use clear phrases like “I don’t understand.” This will express to your doctor that they need to explain in simpler terms. If you understand better with visual aids, ask your doctor to write down important information.

Take notes during your appointment. To better remember information, write down your doctor’s answers to your questions, referrals, contact information, and future appointment information. Writing down this information will make it simpler for you to recall anything you learn during your appointments.

If possible, record your visits. Before recording an appointment, confirm that it is okay with your doctor. Recording allows you to listen to specific information at a later time. Having the specifics makes it easier to share this information with family members or other members of your health care team.

Your health care team is here to help you. Using these tips and suggestions may help you better connect with your team. This will allow them to effectively help you accomplish your goals during your cancer experience and feel more comfortable during treatment.

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