Talking to healthcare professionals - Maggie's Centres

Talking to healthcare professionals


Many people find it difficult to talk to healthcare professionals – either on the phone or at appointments.

It can be hard to remember what you wanted to ask particularly if you are feeling tired or unwell. You may feel rushed or that other patients have more urgent concerns than you.

The information on this page will help you to take an active role in conversations with healthcare professionals and enable you to be more involved in your treatment and care.


Talking with members of your healthcare team can sometimes feel a challenge.

Time with doctors, nurses and other health care professionals can feel limited and when you are feeling stressed, nervous, tired and/or unwell it can be hard to concentrate, to understand or to remember what was said. 

Healthcare professionals (HCP’s) may use language that you are not familiar with, forgetting that it is not commonly used outside cancer care, or they may assume, because you have some relevant experience that you understand more than you do.

Sometimes, even if something is being explained clearly, it may be hard for you to take in what is said.

Many people with cancer find they are given an overwhelming amount of information around the time of diagnosis and it is very difficult to remember it all.

Stress, anxiety, tiredness, pain and other symptoms can all affect the ability to remember information. In fact research has shown that only around 15% of information may be recalled by people receiving a cancer diagnosis after the consultation.

If you don’t understand or if you have questions, it is important that you ask.

The following tips will help you to get more out of your time with your GP or hospital staff and be more able to take an active role in conversations with them:

Before your appointment

Check the time, date and place of the appointment and the names of the health care professionals you are due to see.

  • Let the hospital know if you have any disabilities that may cause you access issues or mean you need additional time . You can also tell them if you have other reasons eg  past trauma, religious  reasons that may affect the timing of your appointment or that you would prefer to see a  professional of a specific gender or may need an interpreter. 
  • Plan your questions before your appointment. It can help to write them down.  Many people with cancer have said it’s not always easy to remember questions once you are at the appointment. You could also write to your doctor before to let them know your questions and concerns.
  • Ask a relative or friend to come along to help you remember what to ask and what is said.
  • Take a notepad with you to take notes (you could ask your friend/relative to take notes for you) 
  • Some hospitals encourage patients to tape record consultations with their doctor to help them remember what is said. If you would like to do this, check with your doctor or nurse before your appointment.
  • Most  hospitals will automatically send you a copy of the letter they send to your the GP, explaining what was discussed in the appointment - you could ask if this would be possible.

At the appointment

  • Health care staff should introduce themselves and explain their role in your care.   You are likely to meet many different healthcare professionals throughout your treatment, It can be helpful to make a note of their names, titles and contact details in case you have questions later.
  • Tell the doctor/nurse how much you want to know about your cancer, how you find it easiest to understand information and how much you want to be involved in your treatment and care.
  • Let them know if you want to give permission for infomraiton to be shared with other membersof your family. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the HCP to repeat things or explain them more simply.
  • You can ask the doctor or nurse to draw a diagram or write a brief note of what has been said. information backed up with pictures or diagrams is  often easier to remember. 
  • If you are not sure about anything ask more questions.
  • Ask who you should contact if you have questions following the  appointment, when they are available and how you should contact them.
  • Be honest -  for example,  when telling the HCP  about side effects and symptoms. Let them know of any supplements, and/or herbal remedies you’re taking, as this will help plan the right treatment for you.
  • Dont assume the HCP will ask everything or that they have spoken with other members of your healthcare team (a specialist nurse or your GP, for instance)  and do tell them if you feel something hasn't been covered. 
  • You may find it difficult  or embarrassing to talk in front of extra HCP’s. Medical students, for example,  often attend clinic appointments as part of their learning . You can request for the students not to attend  the appointment if you prefer.

After the appointment

Sometimes everything seems clear at the appointment, but when you get home it can seem confusing or you may think of other information or questions. 

If you have any questions you would like answered before your next hospital appointment, your GP, hospital doctor, specialist nurse should be able to help. 

You can also drop into a Maggie’s centre to talk things over with our professional teams and other centre visitors.

GP letters 

After a hospital appointment your  hospital doctor will usually write a letter to your GP explaining what has happened at the appointment and any treatment that is planned. 

A copy of this letter may automatically be posted to you  for your records . 

They can be a useful opportunity to make sure there is an accurate record of your  care. However, sometimes  they may be written with confusing medical language or abbreviations  that you find upsetting or difficult to understand. 

If you have questions you can bring the letter into a Maggie's and talk it over with one of our cancer support specialists,  talk with your GP or phone the hospital to help make things clearer.
 

Confidentiality

By law everyone working in the NHS must keep your records confidential. Information will not usually be given to your family or carers without your agreement. 

If you are caring for someone close to you, with cancer, healthcare professionals will not be able to give information about that person without permission from the person themselves.

Interpreters

Even if you manage well day-to-day, if English is not your first language then talking about medical matters can be a challenge. 

Friends/family can help but they may not translate things accurately for fear of upsetting or worrying you.

Sometimes they they may have difficulty understanding the medical  terms involved.

Let the hospital know in advance of the appointment and they should be able to arrange for an interpreter who is proficient in medical language.


What now?

Talk with others about what you are experiencing. It can help to hear that what you’re feeling is not unusual, and help you feel less alone. 

Call into your local Maggie’s, or join our online forums to talk to our professional teams and connect with others in a similar position to yourself.


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