Improving Communication With Your Healthcare Team
Being able to communicate comfortably and effectively with your care team is incredibly important! Effective patient-provider communication can be related to improved health outcomes such as patient adherence and is hypothesized to provide pathways to improved health outcomes directly and/or by increasing a patient’s feelings of satisfaction with their care and being understood, for example.
In addition, effective communication between you and your provider can allow for shared decision making, a process where you are an active participant in decisions about your care and freely discuss and share information. This can help make sure that the care you receive is aligned with your goals and your values!
But communicating with your providers can often be hard to do in the moment! You may feel overwhelmed, unprepared, confused, anxious, or any number of other emotions that may make it harder to communicate the way you want to. In this article, you will find some simple tricks to improve communication with your healthcare team!
Tips to improve communication with your healthcare team
Tip #1: Write it out before
Before your appointment, come with some questions written out (this could mean a piece of paper, or on the Notes app on your phone!). Try and take some time to think through all questions you may want answered. They could range from questions about your diagnosis itself, questions about treatment options or treatment choices, questions about your current symptoms, or questions about lifestyle and quality of life, among many others! Remember, when it comes to your care, no questions are too big, too small, or too silly.
You may also want to take a moment to write down your current symptoms. Symptoms can be hard to accurately recall in the moment at a healthcare visit. In addition, it can be common to want to minimize your experience during a healthcare visit. Having a written-out narrative of your current disease symptoms and/or concerns can help you present the most accurate picture so that your healthcare team can offer you the most appropriate suggestions!
Tip #2: Write it out during
Consider taking notes during the appointment – particularly when your healthcare team is answering questions you have or providing new information! Having these notes can serve as a valuable reference to go back to after your visit. You also can ask your doctor if you can audio-record the session.
Tip #3: Bring a trusted person
Having a trusted person come with you to appointments can help in several ways! It may make you feel more comfortable in the appointment itself, which can help in general with communication. Having a trusted person means they can also serve as a resource – they can prompt you to bring up things you may have forgotten, and they can also help remember information from the visit itself. You can even ask your trusted person to take notes for you!
Tip #4: Know who to contact between visits
Have you ever had the experience of leaving an appointment, and immediately remembering something you wanted to ask or share? That can be common! To help with that, before you leave a visit, ask what the best way to get in touch with your healthcare team is between visits. Different offices have different ways of doing this! You also will want to ask how you can access your medical record between visits so you can remind yourself about medications, diagnosis, treatment plans, etc.
Communicating about your mental health
One particular area of communication that people can struggle with is bringing up symptoms of mental health with their providers. People may think “this is a doctor just for my chronic illness! They don’t need to know about my mental health. And even if they do know, would they be able to help?” Remember that, especially in gastrointestinal conditions, your physical and mental health are very intertwined. Your brain and your gut speak to each other!
For example, people with IBD have an increased likelihood of developing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression than those who do not have IBD. This information, combined with the knowledge that mental health symptoms can relate to worse outcomes (like decreased quality of life and increased disease activity), means that your mental health is incredibly important to the care of your IBD!
Some tips that you can use specifically to communicate about your mental health with your healthcare team might be:
Tip #1: Know providers care for you as a whole person!
Particularly in gastrointestinal conditions, where the brain-gut axis connection is so strong, knowing how you are doing mentally and physically can help your care team provide you with the best possible care! You are being an active and helpful participant in your care when you can share your mental health symptoms as well as your physical health symptoms.
Tip #2: Open the door gently
If you think this conversation may be hard for you to bring up organically, think of a way you can open the door to it, even if only slightly. Some ways to start the conversation may be:
- I feel like I’ve been struggling lately. Can we talk about that?
- I have been feeling some feelings of stress/anxiety/depression. Can you help me understand how I might handle those?
- I feel my mental health may be affecting my physical health. Can we please discuss this?
- I’m struggling a lot lately mentally. Is this normal?
Try and think of an opener that feels right to you and your personal experience!
Tip #3: Know the solution might not be immediate
Bringing up mental health challenges may not result in immediate solutions. Know that even if they can’t help right away themselves, a provider may be able to refer you to someone who can.
Remember, you are an incredibly important part of your care team! Being able to share your experiences, opinions, and values will help your care be the best it can be.