Communicating with your Healthcare Team

Here are some things you can do to help build an effective partnership:

Be Organized

Doctors are busy, so you need to know how to get the most from their limited time with you. This means that you must be organized and focused on the issues you want to address. Think in advance about the questions you want answered. Write down and prioritize those questions, highlighting the main three or four you want to discuss. Questions you may want to ask your doctor - PDF

Keep Good Records

Provide your doctor with good, accurate information about your symptoms and medications so he or she has the necessary tools to accurately diagnose your condition and prescribe appropriate treatment. A list of medications and supplements you are taking, recent symptoms and the dates at which they occurred, any recent tests and names of other doctors you are seeing can be useful information to share with your doctor.

Set the Tone

Let your doctor know how much or how little you want to participate in the decision-making process and whether you want very detailed information about all treatment options or just general information. Inform your doctor of any cultural beliefs that may affect your treatment choices or preferences.

Speak Up

Remember that you are your own best advocate. If you don't understand something, ask the doctor to clarify and repeat information as necessary. It's always a good idea to bring along a second person for your appointments. They can help to take notes or ask questions that you may have forgotten. Your primary nurse is often a good source of information.

Be Understanding

Balance assertiveness with respect and understanding. Although it's important to let your doctor know your needs or if you are dissatisfied, it's equally important to maintain a positive interaction. Keep in mind that many of your questions can be addressed by a nurse, a social worker or by the staff at the cancer centre. Ask about other resources that can provide additional support.

Getting a Second Opinion

You have a right to seek a second opinion if you are not entirely comfortable with the proposed treatment plan. Keep the lines of communication open and work with your oncologist regarding another specialist opinion. You may not even need to have a face-to-face meeting with a second doctor as your medical records and scans can be sent electronically for a consultation.

Another option is to contact a patient navigator who can help to negotiate the maze of treatments and services available. This is typically carried out by paid healthcare providors working in close collaboration with cancer centres and other healthcare resources.

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