We know that effective communication between patients and caregivers improves patient satisfaction, increases adherence to recommended treatments, and leads to better health outcomes.  As a result, we encourage patients to communicate openly with their caregivers and become active participants in their medical care.  At the same time, however, we know that some patients prefer to leave healthcare decisions to their doctor or other healthcare professional.  Each person should feel free to choose the approach that works best for him or her.

You can significantly improve your relationship with your caregiver if you view the relationship as a partnership in which you and your family members are active participants. The responsibility for good communication falls on both patients and family members and caregivers.

Caregivers also value being recognized by their patients and families for the compassionate care they provide.  You can help promote compassionate care by expressing appreciation for the compassionate care you receive and speaking up when you do not receive it.

As a patient, your role is to:

  • Come to medical appointments prepared not only with your questions but also with a willingness to share your concerns. Remember that caregivers cannot read your mind, so be sure to clearly express your thoughts and concerns.
  • Tell your caregiver everything you know about your health, medical history, and what you think may have caused your health problem.
  • Take part in making healthcare decisions.  Express your concerns, both medical and non-medical (for example, the impact of your illness on your quality of life, work life, family life) with as much detail as possible. Let your caregiver know what is important to you.
  • Bring a friend or family member with you to your medical appointments for support or if you’re worried that your caregiver won’t understand you.
  • Ask for a qualified language interpreter if you need one.
  • Make sure your caregiver is using words that you can understand and ask for an explanation of any medical terms that are confusing to you.
  • Tell your caregiver about all the healthcare professionals you are seeing, including non-traditional practitioners such as chiropractors and acupuncturists; let your caregiver know about any remedies traditional to your culture that you are taking.
  • Show your caregivers that you are interested in them. Ask them how they are doing.
  • Take notes and feel free to ask for written information. Ask your caregiver to repeat any treatment recommendations if you do not understand them. Feel free to ask your caregiver to write down his or her recommendations.
  • Ask whether there are any side effects from the drugs or treatments you have been prescribed and how soon you might begin feeling better.

The more open you are and the more you understand and participate in your own healthcare, the more likely it is that you will have a good relationship with your caregiver.
 

Resources

To help ensure that you receive compassionate care, the Schwartz Center has provided the following information, including links to online resources and organizations that can support and assist you. These resources are intended to be helpful, but are not meant to be an exhaustive list of all resources. 

Center for Communication in Medicine
The Center for Communication in Medicine develops programs that highlight the roles and responsibilities of patients, families, and medical practitioners in improving communication. By starting the conversation through community-based programs and maintaining collaborative ties to medical educators and clinicians, the Center seeks to increase awareness of the key role of communication in making informed healthcare decisions and improving the quality of care.

Cochrane Collaboration 
The Cochrane Collaboration is an organization dedicated to making up-to-date, accurate information about the effects of medical treatments readily available worldwide. It produces and disseminates systematic reviews of healthcare interventions and promotes the search for evidence through clinical trials and other studies.

Foundation for Informed Decision Making
The Foundation for Informed Decision Making works to strengthen the role patients play in selecting treatments for their medical conditions. The Foundation has a large selection of what are called “decision aids” (videos, brochures, online materials) that help patients facing many different health problems choose the right treatment for them.

Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care
The Institute provides leadership to advance the understanding and practice of patient- and family-centered care in hospitals and other healthcare settings. It serves as a central resource for both family members and healthcare practitioners. The website highlights the value of patient and family resource centers and provides a list of hospital-based resource centers.

Journal of Participatory Medicine
This peer-reviewed journal is published by the Society for Participatory Medicine, which encourages patients to be full partners in their healthcare and to be seen as such by healthcare professionals. Articles are about ways to improve the practice of medicine and the delivery of care by building stronger relationships between patients and caregivers.

MedlinePlus
MedlinePlus is a website that addresses many health-related questions, bringing together authoritative information from the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies and health-related organizations. MedlinePlus also has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and recent health news.

Partnership for Clear Health Communication
The Partnership for Clear Health Communication provides materials that help patients come to medical visits better prepared. Their Ask Me 3 campaign provides useful tools for medical visits. 

Partnership for Healthcare Excellence
The Partnership for Healthcare Excellence is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers improve the quality of their healthcare.  The organization has produced a number of helpful fact sheets, including fact sheets on choosing a doctor, preparing for your doctor’s appointment, and preparing for your hospital stay.