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Communicating with Your Providers

Posted 12/29/2014

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  In all things and surely in all relationships, communication is key. Since your relationships with your oncology doctors are very longterm, it is especially important that you can communicate with and understand each other. As I write that, I realize there are a few exceptions and at least one modifier. The medical oncologist is usually the doctor with whom you have the longest connection. S/he is the overall leader of your care, bringing in other specialists as necessary. A radiation oncologist, for example, plans and delivers a specific time-limited treatment, and you may not continue to see that person in follow up for too long. The pathologist, whose reading of the first slides, sets the course for everything that follows, but you probably never speak with her.

  This is on my mind this morning both because I have an excellent article to share with you and because I have already had two conversations today with women who are not happy about their communication with their doctor. One feels that she is too often misunderstood and worries that she does not express herself well. I know her quite well, and I think that is not the case, but she is quick to be self-critical. The other woman was angry because she had just received a letter containing a list of all her planned appointments for January and February. She plans her days at the hospital carefully, comes from a distance, and tries to coordinate visits to minimize her travel. By having several appointments changed, without her permission or her input, upends all her careful planning and leaves her feeling unheard and pushed around.

  Where does communication begin here? Or, rather, where are the first attempts at a useful exchange? In the first case, I suggested that she begin by emailing her doctor (and right here it must be said that some doctors welcome emails and others don't; find out about yours) and briefly saying that she is feeling badly about their last appointment and can they schedule a phone conversation or another visit? During that talk, I suggested that she "begin with I" (you know, "I am feeling badly..." rather than "Your attitude made me...."), express her feelings, restate what she hopes for, and then listen carefully. In the second instance, I suggested that she call the admin person, and "nicely" explain her geography and schedule, ask her help in rearranging the appointments so that they work better in her life. We will see what happens with both situations.

  And here is the promised article from Living Beyond Breast Cancer:

 Ask the Expert: Communicating With Your Healthcare Providers
Sharing your concerns about treatment side effects, lifestyle and other issues may help ease worries you have after a breast cancer diagnosis. Yet knowing what to ask, or how to ask it, may be difficult. During the month of December, Living Beyond Breast Cancer expert Jennifer J. Griggs, MD, MPH, FACP, answers your questions about how to communicate concerns related to your health and well-being, what kinds of questions to ask and how talking with your doctors can make your treatment experience easier.

If you want to know more about talking with your care team, get tips for stating your concerns clearly and effectively and learn how to bring up difficult topics, ask our expert today.

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