Communicating with your Healthcare Team

Selecting Your Healthcare Team


The selection of your oncologist and healthcare team is one of the most important decisions you need to make and manage throughout your treatment for cancer. An effective treatment for cancer requires a considerable effort by both you (the patient), and your physician. Forming a strong relationship with your physician, oncology nurse, oncology social worker, and other office or clinic staff will be crucial to managing your cancer journey.

Communicate Openly


You should never hesitate to ask the questions you have. Being upfront about how you feel—and what you do or do not understand—helps both you and your doctor take care of your health. It is your body, your health, and your life, and you need to know what’s going on with all three.

You have the right to understand medical terms and cancer treatment options. You have the right to make choices, whether the doctor agrees with those choices or not. If your doctor does not treat you with respect, repeatedly shows impatience with your questions, or does not consider your opinions, it may be time to change doctors.

Research shows that cancer survivors of all backgrounds can have a hard time communicating with their healthcare team. If anything on the list below sounds familiar, communication may be at the heart of the problem:

  • After many of your office visits, you have questions that you didn’t ask or you felt were not answered very well.
  • It seems as if you never have enough time during office visits to say what is on your mind.
  • Members of your healthcare team often seem rushed, distracted, or uninterested in something you want to discuss.

Improve Communication with your Healthcare Team


One of the best ways to improve communication with your healthcare team is to prepare for your visits so that you can make the most of your time. There are a few things you can do to make sure you leave the doctor with a clear understanding of what was discussed and what you need to do.

  • Bring a friend or family member with you to help take notes—or ask a nurse.
  • If your doctor prescribes new medications or a different treatment plan, write this information down. Once your doctor is done, read your notes back to the doctor or nurse. This will help to catch any information you may have missed or didn’t understand.
  • Always ask questions if you have them.
  • If you cannot do what the doctor is asking in the treatment plan, ask for other options.
  • Write down any directions the doctor or nurse tells you about follow-up tests you may have
  • Write down the time and date of your next appointment.

Important Questions to Ask Your Oncologist


Questions to ask your healthcare team about your diagnosis

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • What stage is my cancer, and has it spread to other parts of my body?
  • What symptoms of cancer might I experience?
  • What other types of tests will I need?
  • Where can I find more information about my cancer?

Questions to ask your oncologist and healthcare team about your treatment

  • What are my goals for treatment (is it to cure the cancer, control the cancer, or relieve symptoms)?
  • What treatment options are available for me?
  • Which treatment do you recommend, and why?
  • Where can I get a second opinion?
  • What are the risks and benefits of each treatment option?
  • What side effects might I experience, and how can they be managed or prevented?
  • Where will I go to receive my treatment?
  • When can I start my treatment, and how long will it last?
  • Are there treatment options I should consider if chemotherapy isn’t appropriate or has stopped working?
  • Which treatments are covered by insurance?
  • If insurance doesn’t cover this treatment, what options exist to help with finances ?
  • Are there any clinical trials that might be appropriate for me?
  • Where can I go to get more information about clinical trials?

Questions to ask about your doctor and the clinic or hospital

  • How much experience do you have in treating my specific type of cancer?
  • Are you board certified as an oncologist or are you certified in another specialty?
  • How do you stay up-to-date on the latest cancer treatments?
  • Are you associated with a major medical center, medical school, or comprehensive cancer center?
  • Do you and the hospital accept my type of insurance?
  • Will I be able to receive all treatments at this facility?
  • Are cancer clinical trials offered at this facility?
  • Is there an oncology nurse or social worker who will be available during my treatment for education and support?
  • What other support services (support groups, housing, transportation, etc.) are available at this facility for patients and families?

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