"Doctor, Can We Talk?": Tips for Communicating With Your Health Care Team

Talking to your doctor can be difficult. Regardless of your diagnosis, hearing about it may leave you feeling frightened or overwhelmed. Good communication with your doctor will help improve the quality of the care you receive.

Here are some ways to improve communication with your health care team:

Remember that you are the consumer. As a patient, it is important to remember that you are a consumer of health care. The best way to begin making difficult decisions about health care is to educate yourself.

Bring someone with you to your appointments. It is always helpful to have support, and the person can serve as a second set of ears. He or she may also be able to think of questions to ask your doctor or remember details about your symptoms you may have forgotten.

Prepare a list of questions beforehand. This way, you won't forget to ask about something that was important to you. Make your questions specific and brief because your doctor has limited time. Once you're at your appointment, ask your most important questions first.

Write down your doctor's answers. Taking notes will help you remember your doctor's responses and instructions. It also allows you to go over the information later when you have more time to concentrate or do research.

If possible, tape-record your visit. Taping your conversation gives you a chance to hear specific information again or share it with family members or friends.

Here are some questions to ask your doctor or nurse to help you understand your treatment and follow-up:

  • What are my treatment options?
  • What is the recommended treatment?
  • How often will I receive treatment?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • What are the possible benefits and risks of this treatment?
  • How much will my treatment cost?
  • If I have questions during my treatment and my doctor is not available, who can I ask? For example, is a nurse, social worker, or other specialist available?
  • Is there any information I can read about this treatment or procedure?
  • Is there anything else I should know?

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