Most conversations between you and your doctors or nurses will probably go smoothly.
However, your feelings and fears may make it difficult for you to ask your medical team the right questions and to remember their answers.
Conversations with healthcare staff
It’s common for people to sometimes feel they’re not getting the information or support they need.
Here are some practical tips for when you are talking to healthcare staff.
- Think of the most important questions before you meet with your doctor.
- Write down the important points on a piece of paper that you can take with you. Nobody will mind you writing things down or making a list of questions you want to ask. Some people are happy for you to record the discussion, so you can listen to it later. You can also ask your medical team for a copy of any letters summarising the details of your discussion with them.
- Take a relative or friend with you to appointments. They can help you remember things that the doctor says, and questions you want to ask but may forget.
- Be honest and factual when describing problems. Don’t play down symptoms. Also talk about how you feel, including feelings of anxiety or depression. Even if they cannot help you themselves, they should refer you to someone who can help.
- Use your own language. Your doctors or nurses may use medical terms, but you don’t have to. Using terms that you only partly understand may cause problems as the health professionals may think you know more than you do.
- Ask for simpler explanations. It’s okay to say you don’t understand the terms used. Ask the medical professional to explain things in a simpler way.
- Say if you’re embarrassed. Medical symptoms and problems can be embarrassing. They’re often the kind of personal things we don’t want to talk about. When you start talking, you can say, ‘I’m sorry, this is embarrassing to talk about, but…’
- Make sure you understand. Summarise the doctor’s words and say, ‘So you’re saying that…’ or ‘If I’ve got that right, you mean that…’ This makes it clear how much you’ve understood. It will encourage your doctor or nurse to explain things more clearly.
- Remember, you’ll have other chances to ask questions. You could make another appointment to ask your questions if you don’t cover everything in the first discussion, or if you’re given surprising news that changes the questions you wanted to ask. You may also be given a phone number for a nurse specialist you can phone if you’ve forgotten to ask a question or if you don’t understand something.
We have a tool that may help you to think about things that are going well or could be improved with your treatment.
It is taken from the website thinkaboutyourlife.org, which was developed by cancer survivors. The website has examples, stories and support to help you use the tool.
You can download a PDF of the tool.
We also have information about asking about your cancer treatment. It may help you to think of questions you’d like to ask your doctors or nurses.