The relationship with a doctor is a very personal one, built on communication and trust. In choosing a doctor, the "chemistry" between the two of you must work. You must be able to trust, confide in and tell your doctor about your health problems, including all symptoms. Your doctor, in turn, should listen to you, give you options and feedback and have your best interest in mind.
Here are some things you can do to help build an effective partnership:
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. Send a list of the questions to your doctor in advance, if you think that would be helpful.
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.
The better you are able to communicate your needs and concerns, the better your doctor can respond.
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.
There is virtually nothing more important than your health. Just as you would not buy a car without asking questions, don't be afraid to ask your doctor questions. If your concerns are not addressed to your satisfaction, be assertive. Let your doctor know that you still have questions and ask if an additional appointment can be set up, whether the appointment can be extended or if there are other staff members who can address your questions.
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 voice appreciation for positive aspects of your communication and treatment. Keep in mind that many of your questions can be addressed by a nurse, a social worker or by the staff at the Cancer Resource Center.
Know How to Keep in Touch
Before you leave, find out the best way to keep in touch between office visits, whether through the nurse, via email or by leaving messages at the front desk.
Before Your Visit
- Take a list of specific questions to your appointment, making sure to list the most important ones first.
- Familiarize yourself with your medical history, so you can convey it concisely to your doctor. Writing out a brief synopsis to give a new doctor can be helpful and save time.
- Keep a diary to track your symptoms and concerns. Convey these clearly to your doctor.
- List medications you are taking with their dosages. Tell your doctor about any medication changes.
- Notify your oncologist or the scheduler ahead of time if you think your questions will take an extended time to answer. This allows the staff to arrange the schedule accordingly.
During Your Visit
- Tape-record your visit or bring a pencil and notebook to take notes. You also may bring a trusted friend or relative to take notes for you.
- Keep your discussion focused, making sure to cover your main questions and concerns, your symptoms and how they impact your life.
- Ask for clarification if you don't understand what you have been told or if you still have questions.
- Ask for explanations of treatment goals and side effects.
- Many cancer specialists work closely with other team members. Ask if there is anyone else you should meet.
- Let your doctor know if you are seeing other doctors or health care providers.
- Share information about any recent medical tests.
- Let your doctor know how much information you want and if you have religious or cultural beliefs that affect your treatment.
- Stand up for yourself or have a friend or family member advocate for you if your concerns are not addressed.
- Balance assertiveness with friendliness and understanding.
For additional information or resources, please visit:
Cancer Resource Center
1600 Divisadero St., First Floor
San Francisco, CA 94115
UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.
Self-Care for Caregivers
Caregiver fatigue can be brought on by the physical and emotional demands of caring for a loved one with a serious illness. Learn tips to combat caregiver fatigue here.
Coping with Chemotherapy
Each person experiences side effects from chemotherapy differently, and different chemotherapy drugs cause different side effects. Learn more here.
Delegation to Help with Fatigue
Fatigue caused by cancer treatment can make it difficult to accomplish even the smallest of tasks. Learn how task delegation can help with this fatigue.
Evaluating Health Information
Health information can be extremely useful, empowering us to make important health decisions. However, it also can be confusing and overwhelming. Learn more.
FAQ: Cancer Pathology Tissue Slides
Find frequently asked questions regarding cancer pathology tissue slides, such as how to obtain the slides and what to do with them once you do.
FAQ: Cancer Radiology Scans and Reports
Learn the difference between a radiology report and radiology films or scans as well as why your doctor may be requesting these scans and more.
Hospice, which now exists in every state, provides home care and support for terminally ill patients. Learn more about the criteria and costs here.
Managing Your Treatment
Living with or caring for someone with cancer can be a full-time job. Here are some tips to reduce stress and help navigate the disease more effectively.
Nutrition and Coping with Cancer Symptoms
Side effects of cancer treatment may affect your eating pattern, requiring new ways to get the calories, protein and nutrients that you need. Learn more.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Your time with the doctor is limited, thus it's helpful to prepare for the visit in advance by prioritizing the questions that are important to you. Learn more.
Resources for End of Life
The UCSF Cancer Resource Center has a list of bereavement support groups, counselors, hospice and others dealing with end-of-life issues. Learn more.
Tips for Conserving Your Energy
Cancer and cancer therapy can be accompanied by feelings of extreme fatigue. To help you deal with this fatigue, follow these easy tips help conserve energy.
Using a Medical Calendar and Symptom Log
Take time at the end of each day or each week to reflect back on the symptoms you've had. You can use a calendar to track your symptoms. Learn more here.