Understanding How To Talk To Your Doctor
Before you make treatment decisions or start your treatment, there is some information you should share with your doctor. There also are things you should know about your doctor, and about how to communicate effectively, how to ask the right questions, and how to work with your health care team to make sure you remember and understand what you discuss.
- Your type of work and the degree of physical work or mental stress it involves.
- Close relatives who have had cancer, and their cancer types.
- An idea of how much you know about cancer and its treatment.
- How much you are affected by family problems, money problems, work-related stress, or other issues.
- Your hobbies and other interests.
- Your goals for your quality of life during and after treatment.
- Whether you might want to have children in the future.
- Any important cultural beliefs.
If you prefer that some of the information not go beyond your doctor, request that the doctor not write it down. (Once information is entered in your medical records, it may be available to parties such as insurance carriers and others.)
They’re only human. They see many patients in a week’s time. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember details about a specific patient’s case if the medical chart isn’t readily available. Sometimes they may not be able to answer a particular question because there may not be an answer, or at least no answer now. Just as cancer treatment is individualized, your response to that treatment also is individualized.
Whether you have cancer or not, you can’t predict the future. But each of us should think about how decisions should be made and who should make them if we become too ill to do so ourselves. Your doctor or hospital can give you information on preparing a document, called an advance health directive, that is legally recognized in your state. Common forms of this document are the durable power of attorney (also known as the health care proxy) and the “living will.” Many people have questions about these documents, such as:
It is important to let your loved ones, doctors, and other team members know how much you want to be informed about your cancer, its treatment, and your health outlook (prognosis). They often look for subtle clues or signals from you. Sometimes they don’t know what to do about keeping you informed. Be open with them. Tell them clearly how much information you want. If your needs change, tell them so.
On the other hand, sometimes loved ones may want to know more about the medical treatment and situation than you do. This can put your doctor in the difficult position of needing to safeguard your privacy while being asked by family members for more information. If you’re concerned, you have the right to say who should know what kinds of information. You need to make sure your doctor understands your preferences about how much can be discussed with loved ones.
You can make it less difficult for them if you discuss these issues and tell your doctor and your loved ones to what extent the doctor has your permission to share information with them.