Talking with Your Health Care Team

Doctors Facing Camera
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There is a lot to learn about cancer and your treatment. There are many things to remember. And if you’re scared or confused, it can be even harder to take it all in. But, there are things you can do to make it easier to learn.

Express yourself clearly. Describe your problem or concern briefly. State the most important points first.

Ask your doctor or nurse to write down the name and stage of your cancer. There are many different types of cancer. "Stage" refers to the size of the cancer tumor and how far it has spread in your body. Knowing the name and stage of your cancer will help you find out more about your cancer and help your doctor decide which treatment choices you have.

Learn about your treatment choices. Ask your doctor to tell you about your treatment options. Ask how each treatment can help and which side effects you might have. Try to learn all you can about each choice. Let your doctor know if you need more time to think about these issues before you choose one.

Ask as many questions as you need to. Your doctor needs to know your questions and concerns. Write down your questions and bring them with you to your visit. Ask your most important questions first, in case the doctor runs out of time. If you have a lot of questions, you may want to plan extra time to talk.

Let your doctor know your concerns about costs. Your health care team wants to know if you're worried about finances for your cancer treatment so they can help you find ways to manage them. For more details on this topic, see Managing Costs and Medical Information.

Don't worry if your questions seem silly or don't make sense. All your questions are important and deserve an answer. It's okay to ask the same question more than once. It's also okay to ask your doctor to use simpler words and explain terms that are new to you. To make sure you understand, use your own words to repeat back what you heard the doctor say.

Take someone with you when you go to the doctor. Ask a family member or friend to go with you when you see your doctor. This person can help by listening, taking notes, and asking questions. If you can't find someone to go with you, ask your doctor if he or she will talk with a friend or family member over the phone.

Let your doctor know how you like to receive news. Tell your doctor how you like to hear updates and information about your cancer. For example, do you want it all at once or gradually as you go through treatment? Do you want all the details or just the main facts? It's also very important to let your health care team know which family members or friends they can share information with and when. 

Take notes or ask to record your conversation. Many patients have trouble remembering what they talk about with their doctor. Take notes or ask if you can record the conversation.

Know that you have a right to privacy. Your medical information is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This law gives you the right to receive and review your medical records. It also gives you the right to choose who your information is shared with, including friends or family members.  This may be face-to-face, over the phone, or in writing. Your health care provider should let you know about your privacy rights, but make sure to ask any questions you may have about this topic. For more information, see the Department of Health and Human Services HIPAA page, or informational videos at HealthIT.gov.