Your doctors’ appointments will provide the best opportunity to speak with members of your health team.

Your doctors’ appointments will provide the best opportunity to speak with members of your health care team. It is normal to feel nervous or anxious when going in for an appointment; you might worry that you will forget to ask important questions or that your doctor may be too busy to listen to your concerns. Such fears are normal, and good preparation can improve how comfortable you are during your appointments. It can also make you more satisfied with your appointments overall. Here are some tips for communicating with your health care team during appointments:

Write down your questions. Bring a written list of any questions you may have. Number your concerns in order of importance and ask the most important questions first. Let your doctor know you have a list so they can set aside some time during the appointment to go over it with you.

Take notes or ask your doctor if the appointment can be voice recorded. Write down your doctors’ answers to your questions. Take down any other important information you want to remember; for example, the names of the members of your health care team, places you were referred to, dates and times of future appointments and when and how to take any medications you were prescribed.

Keep everything in one place. It may be helpful to have a binder where you can keep all the notes and papers you are receiving. This way, nothing gets lost and you always know where to look for the information.

Bring someone with you. Let the person know ahead of time how they can be most helpful to you during your appointment. In addition to giving you moral support, they can:

  • Provide another set of ears to catch key points you may have missed.
  • Take notes for you as you talk with your doctor.
  • Remember important information about your cancer or other symptoms that you may have forgotten.
  • Advocate on your behalf, especially if something is unclear to you.

Make sure you understand. If you don’t know what something means, ask. Make your questions specific and brief. Other tips include:

  • Use “I” statements whenever possible—saying “I don’t understand” is more effective than “You’re being unclear.”
  • Try repeating the information back to your doctor—“So you mean I should…?”
  • If you understand better with visual aids, ask to see the X-rays or slides, or ask your doctor to draw a diagram.

Ask for a contact. Important questions may come up between appointments. Find out whether there is someone you can talk to if you have an important issue or emergency.

If your doctor is unavailable, is there someone else, such as a nurse or social worker, whom you can call? Is there another means of communication you can use? Sometimes, doctors may provide an email contact or patient portal for questions that arise in between appointments.