Taking on the role of being a patient can be complex and anxiety provoking. However, there are things you can do to take charge of your diagnosis, treatment and life while living with cancer. Learning to effectively communicate with your doctor is a perfect example.
Remember: You and your doctor are partners in your care. Your doctor is the expert on your disease, but you are the expert on you. Your responsibility is to make sure you’re communicating as openly and clearly as possible.
Doctors care about you and your needs, but they may not pick up on all you’re going through if you don’t tell them. By taking proactive steps to enhance the lines of communication, you can have a real positive impact on your medical care as well as your overall feeling of confidence.
The Peer Counselors on our staff have some advice and suggestions to help you communicate with your doctor:
Don’t Be Afraid To Share
It isn’t easy to share openly. Sharing our fears may make us feel vulnerable, when we think we’re “supposed” to be stoic or strong. We may think our concerns seem extreme, or feel embarrassed to share. It’s only human.
We also might hesitate to share if we compare ourselves to others. Sitting in the waiting room, it’s easy to think there are others who are sicker than us and need the doctor’s time more than we do. We may fall into the trap of thinking our problems are minor or unimportant compared to others.
Always remember: You are the doctor’s most important patient when you’re with them. If you hold back, you’re doing yourself and your doctor a huge disservice. It’s your job to make yourself number one, and share all of your concerns and needs. This gives your doctor the chance to meet those needs, and to support you in your most vulnerable moments.
What Your Doctor Needs To Know
All about you: Help your doctor understand who you are as a person. It takes the focus off the disease and puts the focus on you. Tell your doctor about your work and home life…. your family… your support system …. other stresses in your life…. your interests and hobbies…. whether you’re a caregiver for someone else…. what quality of life means to you. This will help you and your doctor take steps to keep your life as normal as possible.
Your fears: Let your doctor know what you’re afraid of: hair loss, getting sick, side effects…. whatever it is you’re worried about. Do you have fears connected to your “history” with cancer, such as fears stemming from what you’ve seen other people go through, or people you’ve lost to cancer? Your doctor needs to know this too, in order to address and alleviate all of your fears.
Your pain: Most of us struggle with letting our doctors know how much pain we’re in. As a society, we tend to minimize pain, or tough it out. Doctors want you to communicate, in a timely manner, your level of pain or difficulty so they can assess your needs and help you feel better.
Communication Strategies and Tips
Prepare your thoughts: Write your questions down ahead of time and bring them to your appointment. This will remove the pressure of trying to remember everything you want to ask.
Request the time you need: If you know you’ll need more time with your doctor than usual, mention this when you call the office to make your appointment, and ask them to schedule a longer appointment. When you arrive for your appointment, let your doctor know too. That way, your doctor can make time for you and give you their full attention.
Ask for details: Request copies of all your reports, test results and treatment plans. Ask your doctor to explain them to you. The more you understand about your illness, the more in control and confident you will feel.
Take notes: It is perfectly okay, and a good idea, to take notes while you’re talking with your doctor. This way, you’ll have your notes to refer to later on and won’t have to rely on memory. It can also be helpful to bring someone with you to take notes, so you can concentrate on the conversation.
Follow up later if you need to: Sometimes you can’t get all your questions answered at once. If your doctor must leave before you’ve had time to discuss everything you wanted to cover, make a plan to continue the conversation: schedule a phone call, ask about email, etc. If you leave the office and later realize you missed a question, or didn’t let your doctor know how you’re really feeling, that’s okay too. Call the office to speak further with the doctor or make another appointment.
Learn the system: Find out the best contact information for your doctor and his/her staff, both during and outside of office hours. Make sure you know how to reach your doctor should you have a question or emergency that cannot wait. Confirm the office’s policy about returning calls so you know what to expect.
Find tools that work for you: Do you prefer written notes? Carry a small notebook to all of your appointments. Use it to write your questions, your doctor’s answers, any other notes from the appointment. Do you carry your smartphone or tablet wherever you go? There are many great note taking apps (such as Evernote) that allow you to have questions and answers at your fingertips.
Need some more help?
Connect with one of our Peer Counselors. They’ll be happy to help you think through your questions, discuss your fears or concerns, and offer individualized support that will enable you to communicate with confidence. Call toll-free 800-532-4290, or click here to send an email.