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8 Tips for Communicating Well with Your Healthcare Provider

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and stressful. But a good relationship with your healthcare provider makes it easier. You and your provider work together as a team to make sure you get the care that you need. To do that, you need to communicate well with one another. Here are some ways how.

1. Ask questions

Don’t shy away from asking questions. Healthcare providers want you to come to them for advice! But since you may have limited time during your appointment, prep beforehand. Write down the questions you want to ask so you don’t forget. Let your provider know what your questions are at the beginning of your visit, so you have time to talk about them. It’s also hard to remember everything your provider tells you. You may want to write it down. You can also ask if you can record the conversation. This way, you can listen to it later. 

2. Ask for reliable information

Decisions about cancer treatments can’t be made in one office visit. You’ll want time to think things over and do your own research. Ask your provider for resources that can help. Some examples include specific websites, national organizations, and government agencies. It’s also sometimes easier to understand more about your cancer with visual aids. Ask to see X-rays or slides. Or have your provider write down different treatment options in a chart.

3. Make sure you get the answers you need

A cancer diagnosis is confusing—and complicated. Providers also often use medical language that’s hard to understand. Studies show we forget up to 80% of the medical information we’re given during an office visit. Nearly half of what we do remember is incorrect, too. One way to help fix this is to repeat back to your provider what you think they said, in your own words. You can start with, “So you mean I should …,” or “I think you’re suggesting …” This way, your provider can explain something again if it’s not clear. Remember, you can also always call after your visit and ask to speak with your provider or a nurse again.

4. Be honest with your provider

It may be tough to be open about what you are dealing with when it comes to your cancer. But your provider can’t help you unless you share how you feel. If you have new symptoms or experience pain, let them know. There may be different treatment options you can do. Let your provider know if you plan to try any complementary therapies to help treat cancer symptoms, such as acupuncture or energy healing. These may interfere with your cancer treatment. Your provider can offer advice on whether they think it will help and give suggestions of providers you can see. It’s also important to give your provider a list of all the medicines and supplements that you take, including anything over the counter. Some pills, and supplements can interfere with cancer treatments.

5. Take someone with you to your appointments and treatment

It’s always good to have a second set of eyes and ears at your provider visits. So why not take a friend or family member with you? They may be able to think of questions to ask your provider or remember details of symptoms that you may have forgotten. Your loved one can also ask the tough questions you may not be comfortable with bringing up. You can also review the information together after your visit. This helps make sure you both heard and understood the same things. You’ll usually need to sign a medical release form that grants your loved one the right to talk about your treatment with your healthcare team. This is to protect your privacy.

6. Decide how much you want to know

In order to talk comfortably with your provider, you need to figure out how much you want to know about your cancer. Sometimes, people feel more in control if they know everything about their disease. Others feel overwhelmed when they get too many medical details at once. Make that decision and let your provider know. This way, they can communicate with you in the best way possible. Regardless, you should always ask your provider about the risks and benefits for each treatment that they recommend. This way, you have enough information to make an informed decision.

7. Encourage communication between your providers

You’ll most likely have several different healthcare providers as part of your cancer care team. Each one should know what is happening to you. Make a list of all your healthcare providers' names, specialties, phone numbers, and addresses. Give this information to each person on your list. This will make it easier for them to consult each other, share reports and medical records, and talk about important issues regarding your care. You may have to sign medical releases giving them permission to share information and discuss your case with each other. When you visit one healthcare provider, ask if they have talked with your other providers or received their reports.

8. Talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns

When it comes to your health, it’s not a one-way street. You should feel like you and your provider work together to treat your cancer. But no relationship is perfect, and problems can happen. Sometimes you and your healthcare provider may have different communication styles. But there are ways to make things easier. Be open and honest with your provider. If you’re worried that you don’t have enough information to make good decisions, tell them. If you don’t understand something, let them know. A good healthcare provider will understand your worries. If you still feel unheard, you may want to find a new provider. Don’t worry that you will hurt your provider’s feelings if you leave their practice. Just make sure you have a new healthcare provider lined up before you go, so that there are no gaps in your care.

Remember, you are the most important member of your healthcare team. You have the right to:

  • Ask questions

  • Take an active role in your care

  • Participate in all decisions about your treatment

It may seem like a hard role at first, but with practice, it gets easier. In fact, you’ll be surprised at how good you’ll get at this over time.

Caregiver’s tip: Ask your loved one how you can step up and advocate for them. They know best what they need from you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2023
© 2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.