How to Get More out of Conversations with Your Healthcare Team

How to Get More out of Conversations with Your Healthcare Team

Reviewed by Jasper Clinical Board

Last updated 5/24/21

Do you have trouble keeping up with your doctor’s advice? Many of us do, and for good reason: Appointments can be rushed, patients are often emotionally distressed, and doctors sometimes use confusing jargon. Some studies have shown that patients immediately forget up to 80% of the medical information their physician offers.
Of course, it’s crucial during cancer treatment to work very closely with your healthcare team to retain details accurately and convey your concerns clearly. Fortunately, that’s possible with just a little prep work and some handy tricks suggested by doctors themselves. Here are our 7 favorite tips to get more out of every visit with your healthcare team.

Bring a prioritized list

The number one thing you can do to improve communication with your care team is to come prepared! Keep an ongoing list of your concerns, and track new symptoms as they arise. Then, before your appointment, write out a list of your questions.
It’s crucial to rank-order your questions from most to least important, since you may not have time to cover them all in person. Try to address the most serious issues upfront, and make a follow-up appointment if necessary to cover other questions. Ask your team if you can share this list ahead of time, and the best way to do so.

Arrive early

This tip is as simple and low-tech as it gets, and surprisingly effective. Make sure you arrive at the hospital or medical office with plenty of time to spare - 15 minutes at the very least, but more if possible. This will give you time to park, find the right office, fill out check-in forms, use the bathroom, etc. Most importantly, it will give you mental space to get settled in, collect yourself, and review the list of questions you want to ask. (Of course, you may end up waiting, so you might want to bring a book!)

Bring a friend

When it comes to cancer treatment, two heads are often better than one. After all, it’s easy to miss details and forget important questions when you’re on the spot. Someone who knows you and your health situation can back you up and fill in the blanks. They can also take notes while you focus on speaking with the doctor. (More on that shortly.)
Of course, this person should be a trusted friend or family member who you’re ready to share intimate health details with. Ideally, they’ll be able to keep playing this role as your treatment progresses.

Take notes (and ask for your doctor’s)

Trying to remember every detail of your treatment plan is a quick way to drive yourself crazy. Bring a pencil and paper, laptop, or a tablet to keep notes on while you chat with your doctor. (Or as we said above, have a friend act as notetaker.) Jot down the important details as your doctor shares them. At the end of the appointment, if there’s time, ask the doctor to review what you’ve written.
Your healthcare team may also provide take-home literature to summarize your visit and help you keep track of important information. If they don’t offer it, feel free to ask! These details might end up overlapping with your own notes, which is great. There’s no harm in having something written in more than one place.

Bring your medications with you

Your healthcare team will probably want to discuss your medications - and there may be plenty of them to discuss. Instead of trying to create an exhaustive list of each medication, dosage, and schedule, some patients find it helpful to simply bring their prescription bottles along to the visit. If there are too many containers for this to be convenient, it can still be helpful to keep a picture of each one on your cell phone.

Keep the conversation going digitally

Communication with your care team doesn’t have to stop when the appointment ends. Some healthcare providers are happy to communicate with patients via email or even text message. Others like to use their “patient portal” - an online platform that holds your medical records and test results, along with a messaging feature. Ask your healthcare team about the best way to keep in touch between appointments, and don’t hesitate to use it!

Speak up if you’re not being heard

Listening to you is part of your healthcare team’s job. But too often, patients blame themselves or simply shut down when they don’t feel heard. If you feel that your questions or concerns are being pushed aside, let your team know! 
Not sure how to start? try saying something like this: “I’m concerned about X, but I don’t feel that I’m being heard. Can we talk about this?” Or “I don’t think our communication about X is working. Can you help me?” Remember—your healthcare team is on your side. They need to know when something’s not working so they can make it better.

The Bottom Line

Your relationship with your healthcare team is the foundation of your whole cancer treatment plan. And like every other relationship, it takes time and energy to develop! So don’t be afraid to try these tips and make adjustments wherever it’s helpful. The more creativity and openness you bring, the better your experience will be.

The content on this website is intended to provide the best possible information for you, but should not be considered—or used as a substitute for—medical advice. If you have questions about your diagnosis or treatment, please contact your health care provider(s). For questions or comments about this content, please email us at