Tips for Communicating with Your Doctor
The patient-doctor relationship is arguably the most important relationship during a cancer journey. Open communication and trust are the fundamental building blocks of this relationship, and it is important to feel as though you can discuss anything with them. Sometimes this relationship is difficult to nurture, as doctors may use complex, specific terminology or patients find themselves intimidated by what they find to be their doctor’s superior experience and expertise.
However, this could not be farther from the truth: good doctors want their patients to feel included and able to speak up at any point during the appointment. After all, it is yourhealth and you are ultimately in control of that! To help prevent “white-coat brain lock” during your next appointment, here are some tips and tricks to take into consideration.
Prepare for Your Visit
Compile your medical records.
Keeping a personal copy is easier now more than ever before, since most records are kept online. Make sure that your doctor has an updated version as well prior to your appointment. For tips on compiling your medical records, click here.
Do your homework.
Write down any questions or topics you may want to discuss at your appointment as they come to you. Prioritize them, putting the main 2-4 questions you want to address at the top of your list. You can send a copy to your doctor in advance if you would like.
Document your symptoms and medications.
Keep a notebook or pad of paper that is dedicated specifically to your medical notes. Then, keep track of your symptoms and how you are feeling leading up to your appointment.
Also, list out your medications (including the dosages) and whether or not you are noticing any side effects.
If needed, create a timeline: when you noticed symptoms occurring, or how long a certain pain has been lingering for. This will help the doctor get a better overall view of your health.
These notes are important and things that should be shared with your doctor, but during the appointment it is easy to forget if you are relying solely on memory recall. Your notebook will come in handy more often than you may think!
Confirm your appointment!
Make sure you know what time your appointment is, and whether or not you will need to arrive early to fill out paperwork. You want to make sure you have as much time with your doctor as the appointment will allow, and running late hinders this.
During Your Visit
Don’t minimize or downplay how you are feeling: while we often do this to our loved ones so as not to concern them, our doctors need to know the entirety of how we are feeling in order to best prescribe a plan of action to get you back to feeling 100%.
Everyone has preferences of what they like or don’t like, and medical experiences are no different. Be honest about which side effects you most want to avoid, or how high your pain tolerance really is. Modern medicine is generally customizable to you, so this can make a big difference and help you to feel comfortable throughout the process.
Bring someone with you.
This is optional, and you can choose how much you would like to include someone else. But having a loved one accompany you on the drive to the appointment and sit with you in the waiting room (even if they do not go beyond that point) can help you feel at ease and provide moral support.
However, if you would like to include a loved one in your conversation with the doctor, choose someone who is a good listener and attentive. Having a second set of ears, or even someone who will take written notes that you can later add to your appointment, can be helpful if you are comfortable with it.
Remember that communication is a two-way street, and what your doctor has to say is of value. Listen to them, and let them finish their thoughts uninterrupted – and then respond with your questions, reservations, or opinions.
If the doctor uses a term that you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask for a further explanation. Further, feel free to ask about side effects or other options. You can even ask “what happens if I do nothing?” or “how long before I have to make a decision?” Don’t feel pressure to make any decisions immediately, and know that your doctor is there to guide you and help you make the best decisions for your health.
Set the tone and stay focused.
Be assertive. You are in control of your health, and you know your health best. Utilize your health notebook to ask questions and make sure your prioritized concerns are met during this time. During the appointment, youare your doctor’s main priority – don’t forget that!
Know your team.
Should you have a team of doctors and specialists working with you, make sure all of your doctors are aware of each other: with your permission, open the line of communication so that they can all communicate and coordinate with each other, thus ensuring they are all on the same page and working together to reach the same goals. This comes in handy with medicine prescriptions, as well.
After Your Visit
Update your medical records.
Take a quick note of what occurred during your visit, and add this to your medical records.
If you feel as though you were not able to address all of your concerns at this appointment, ask for a follow-up appointment. Sometimes we remember something we wanted to discuss at the end of our appointment, and to ensure all of your concerns are addressed fully, you can ask to schedule a follow-up to make sure the entire conversation occurs without running over your allotted time.
If you need to make a follow-up appointment, do so promptly to ensure you find a time that best fits your schedule.
Stay in touch!
Figure out the best way to communicate with your doctor – emails, voicemails left with the receptionist, etc. – and then utilize this line of communication during the breaks between your appointments.
Each patient-doctor relationship is unique, and this is true for everyone, even those that have multiple doctors or specialists: no two relationships are identical. The underlying principles for every relationship, though, are trust and open communication. The tips listed above should serve as a guide to help you make the most of your appointment visits and facilitate efficient, effective communication with your doctor. Remember that you are in charge of your health, and your doctor is there to help you make the most of that.