Talking with Providers

Why is it important to talk with the patient's healthcare providers?
What do I need to know about the patient’s disease and treatment?
How do I talk with the patient’s healthcare providers?
When should I call the patient's healthcare provider?



Why is it important to talk with the patient's healthcare providers?

Please note: The patient will need to give permission for his or her healthcare providers to speak with you.

If you stay in touch with healthcare providers treating the cancer, you’ll likely have a better understanding of the disease and treatment. You’ll be better able to help the patient make decisions, and better able to anticipate his or her needs.

Back to top

What do I need to know about the patient’s disease and treatment?

Depending upon the level of caregiving you’re providing, you may need to know:

  • The diagnosis, including the stage of the disease
  • Medicines the patient is receiving
  • Possible side effects of treatment, how to manage them, and how they may change over treatment
  • How long the treatment will last
  • How the patient is expected to respond to treatment
  • Risks and benefits of treatment
  • Other treatment that might be available like clinical trials
  • When you should call the healthcare provider
  • Where to go to get more information
  • Where you can get support
  • Who you should call when you have questions

Back to top

How do I talk with the patient’s healthcare providers?

Many people have a hard time talking with doctors and other healthcare providers. You may feel your questions are foolish or silly. You may be afraid that if you report too many things, the provider will stop treatment. You may not be sure who to ask about what.

Here are some tips on talking with healthcare providers:

  • Work with the patient to write down all the questions you both have.
  • Ask clear and specific questions. Be frank.
  • If the patient is able, let him or her speak first.
  • Take notes during the appointment, and/or ask for permission to record the conversation.
  • Repeat what you hear, and ask if you’ve understood what’s been said.
  • If you don’t understand what the provider has said, ask him or her to explain it to you again using simpler terms.
  • Ask for copies of doctors' notes. You have a right to this information, and it's a good way to make sure you are following the care plan.
  • If you are concerned with the way something is going, tell the provider! He or she can only help if he knows there is a problem.
  • Try to learn which staff members give different kinds of information. For example, "Who can tell me when my family member/friend will be discharged?"
  • Talk about any physical, emotional or financial problems the patient is having that may get in the way of his or her.

This Communication Worksheet can help you organize your thoughts before you talk to a healthcare provider.

Back to top

When should I call the patient’s healthcare provider?

If there is an emergency, call 911. If you’re not sure if it’s an emergency, call your provider, tell them what’s happening and ask what to do.

Be sure to share any symptoms the patient is experiencing. Be specific.

  • What is happening?
  • How often?
  • How long have the symptoms been going on?
  • What makes them worse or better?
  • How severe are they on a scale of 0-10 (where 0 = no symptom and 10=worst imaginable)?
  • Are they getting in the way of daily activities?

Back to top

Next learn about…

Medication management
Emergency preparedness
Making a caregiving plan

Article Topics: 
This website was created to provide information, education, and support that will help cancer caregivers care for themselves and their family members. It is not meant as medical advice. Please check with your physician for any advice about your health.