4 Simple Steps to Making the Most of Your Appointments

Hearing that you have cancer for the first time can be incredibly overwhelming. In fact, many patients feel that they are in shock after hearing the news, and have difficulty absorbing any additional information their doctor may share with them about their diagnosis or treatment plan. A slew of appointments with a variety of clinicians typically follow your initial diagnosis as your treatment plan develops. It can be incredibly helpful to bring someone along with you to your appointments to be an additional set of eyes and ears; they can also take notes during your visit. Additionally, given limited time with each of your providers it is important to prepare to make the most of the time you have with your team.

Bring a notepad

If possible, bring notes and prepared questions with you to your appointments. These will help you focus on your most important needs and not forget issues that have been bothering you since your last appointment. In advance of your appointments, try to write down:

Questions you have

  1. How you have been feeling (physically and emotionally)
  2. Changes in your body
  3. Worries or concerns
  4. Symptoms and side effects
  5. Insurance and financial concerns that could impact medical decisions

Try to write down and ask your most important questions and concerns first, and be specific. This will help you make the most of your limited time with your doctors.

Bring your pillbox

Additionally you may want to bring all of your pill bottles with you to appointments to review what medications you have been taking or if you have had any side effects you want to discuss. Your oncologist needs to know all of the medications you are taking, not just medications related to cancer treatment, to ensure that there are no interactions.They may also want to review when and how to take medications. Alternatively you can bring a list of medications, including over the counter meds such as ibuprofen, vitamins and supplements.

Talk to support services

If you know in advance that you will have difficulty getting to and from your appointments, reach out to the social worker or American Cancer Society representative at your cancer center. There may be financial assistance for transportation or other services available. If you receive rides through your insurance or paratransit, someone on site may be able to help you arrange your rides.It is important that you come to all of your scheduled appointments; these support services are in place to ease some logistical burdens.

Get contact information

There may be times in between appointments when you need to communicate with your health care providers. Ask your oncologist what to do if this happens. If your concerns aren’t urgent, but you don’t want to wait until the next scheduled appointment, ask to have a team member call you. You may also be able to contact your team via e-mail, fax, or an online patient portal. Your team can then prepare a response and call or email you to discuss it further. Additionally, ask your doctor how you can reach him or her outside of office hours in case you have additional questions or in the case of emergency. If you think you may have a question they need to prepare for in advance of your next appointment it may be best to email or call them ahead of time.

Time with all of our health care providers is limited in the current health care setting, but when you are facing a cancer diagnosis the time is even more valuable. If you can thoughtfully prepare for your appointments you can take advantage of the time that you have. Following these four simple steps can help you feel prepared beforehand and ready to face your next steps.

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