Communicating with your Doctor
Throughout your journey with melanoma, few relationships are more important than the bond between you and your doctor. You are a team, and teams work best when the communication flows freely in both directions. As a patient, you want care that is not only tailored to the unique feature of your disease but also to your personal needs. For example, do you want your doctor to explain the science – or reasoning - behind each procedure? How active do you want to be in making care decisions?
Learning how to communicate effectively with your doctor and care team, set expectations, and to prepare for each appointment are important strategies to help you make the most out of each visit with your care provider. Here are some tips to enhance communication with your doctor:
Be Direct and Get on Same Page
As you begin your relationship with your medical provider, be up front about what is most important to you as a patient. Setting clear expectations about how you want this partnership to work can help alleviate frustration in the future. Here are some areas that you may wish to discuss:
- How much information do you want to receive?
- How much information do you want your family and loved ones to receive?
- How do you want to receive information? Printed, digital, through a patient-portal?
- How do you want to be part of the treatment planning process?
- How do you want ‘bad’ news communicated to you?
- Ask how you can help your doctor to help you.
- What is the best way to get in contact with your doctor with an urgent need or update?
- Are you involved in, and supportive of, clinical trials?
Open Up & Speak Up
Your doctor is not able to read your mind, so it is important that you speak up with any questions, side effects you might be experiencing, or concerns. Some of your visits will undoubtably feel overwhelming, so it may be helpful to take notes, record your visits using your phone, or bring a loved one with you to serve as a second set of eyes and ears.
Note – It is extremely important that you alert your care team to any side effects – big or small – that you may experience as soon as possible. Your doctor will monitor and manage side effects – and new symptoms – so that you can continue to receive your treatment. Left untreated, side effects can become severe or even life-threatening. They can also limit future treatment options by making patients ineligible for clinical trials or other immunotherapy agents. It’s very important that you speak up about any medication side effect or new symptom.
Plan Ahead for Your Appointments
Having clear goals for each appointment, such as checking in about a mole that concerns you or getting results from your most recent scan, can make sure your needs are met at each visit. It may be helpful to write down these goals, and any related questions, in advance and to bring them to each appointment. You should leave each appointment with a firm understanding of what happened, why, and any next steps (such as follow up testing, or keeping an eye on something).
Your doctor likely has a system in place to ensure you can access urgent assistance after hours. Be sure that you and your loved ones are familiar with this system and know how to contact your doctor in the event of an urgent need or emergency.
Ask your doctor if clinical trials are right for your case. At what point might you need to consider in clinical trials, if not now, then why/when in the future would your case change? Not all doctors are aware of available clinical trials all the time, and they may not bring them up without you asking about them directly. Learn more about clinical trials here.
Were you or a loved one just diagnosed with melanoma? We have the resources to help. Get Started here.