It is important to remember that you are a consumer of health care. The best way to make decisions about health care is to educate yourself about your diagnosis and get to know the members of your health care team, including doctors, nurses, dietitians, social workers and patient navigators. Here are some tips for improving communication with your health care team:

Start a health care journal. Having a health care journal or notebook will allow you to keep all of your health information in one place. You may want to write down the names and contact information of the members of your health care team, as well as any questions for your doctor. Also, keep a section of your journal with symptoms related to your illness or treatment. Note the date and time the symptoms occur and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 to measure how strongly they affect you. These notes will make it easier to share details of your symptoms with your health care team.

Prepare a list of questions. Before your next medical appointment, write down your questions and concerns. Because your doctor may have limited time, you should ask your most important questions first, and be as specific and brief as possible. Questions you may want to ask your health care team:

  • What is causing my oral mucositis?
  • What can I do to manage the pain?
  • Is the recommended treatment for my oral mucositis covered by my insurance?
  • Should I avoid certain activities while experiencing symptoms?
  • How long can I expect symptoms to last?

Bring someone with you to your appointments. Even if you have a journal and a prepared list of questions or concerns, it’s always helpful to have support when you go to your appointments. The person who accompanies you can serve as a second set of ears. He or she may also think of questions to ask your doctor or remember details about your symptoms or treatment that you may have forgotten.

Write down your doctor’s answers. Taking notes will help you remember your doctor’s responses, advice, and instructions. If you cannot write down the answers, ask the person who accompanies you to do that for you. If you have a mobile device, ask if you can use it to take notes. Writing notes will help you review the information later.

Record your visit if your doctor allows it. Recording the conversation with your doctor gives you a chance to hear specific information again or share it with family members or friends.

Incorporate other health care professionals into your team. Your medical oncologist is an essential member of your health care team. There are other health care professionals who can help you manage your diagnosis and treatment as well:

  • Your primary care physician should be kept updated about your cancer treatment and any test results.
  • Your local pharmacist is a great source of knowledge about the medications you are taking; have all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy to avoid the possibility of harmful drug interactions.
  • Make sure your oncology teams knows of any other medical conditions you have, or any pain you are experiencing, so that they can consult with your primary care physician or your specialist if needed. Be sure you communicate all therapies you receive, including supplement use and alternative care modalities such as acupuncture, massage, etc.

Remember, there is no such thing as over-communication. Your health care team wants to know about how you’re feeling overall, which includes your level of pain, your energy level, your appetite, and your mood and spirits.