Questions for the Healthcare Team

At various points throughout the process, the person with cancer will have many questions for his or her health care team. Almost all health care professionals are competent and caring and have their patients’ best interest at heart, but they cannot anticipate the needs of every single one of their patients throughout their busy days. As a caregiver, you can help the person with cancer prepare for visits with members of their health care team by developing a list of questions beforehand, rather than hoping that the right questions will come to mind once he or she is in the room with the provider. There are many different questions that may become important at different times—help the person with cancer write down a list to bring along to each appointment. These do not need to be complicated or fancy questions. Here are some sample questions to help you and the person with cancer get started:

Where is my tumor located? Can you show me on the image?

  • What stage is my cancer?
  • Can my cancer be cured?
  • What is the treatment plan?
  • What is the schedule of the therapy?
  • How long are the various treatments?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • How will these side effects be managed?
  • Can you provide paperwork for the caregiver’s workplace so that the caregiver can come to the appointments?
  • Are the treatments covered by insurance and who can help me check?
  • What integrative, alternative, or complementary therapies are worth exploring?
  • Who is the primary contact at the clinic if my family needs to talk to someone?
  • Who is the after-hours contact?
  • Should we look into consulting a specialist in lung cancer?
  • Should we go to a university oncologist or an oncologist in our community?
  • What expectations are there for the caregiver?

Write down your questions before your appointments. Being prepared will help you better communicate with your health care team.

Often, the best way to get across a point to others is to try and speak their language. When discussing your role as a caregiver, it may be helpful to bring up an editorial that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, most commonly referred to as JAMA, a high-respected, peer-reviewed publication that any doctor knows well. In this article, Dr. Joanne Lynn lays out the essential role that caregivers play in delivering care to patients and the lack of support that is provided by the US healthcare system. For example, Dr. Lynn states: “Unpaid and untrained family caregivers must handle medical devices, medications, and treatments […] Indeed, family caregivers provide most of the hands-on care—often for years without a break, without pay, vacation, recognition, backup, or help.” The full article can be found on pages 1021-1022 of the March 12, 2014 (Volume 311, Number 10) edition of JAMA. If any of the healthcare team treating the person with cancer are unconvinced of the important role that caregivers play in the lives of people with cancer, you can refer them to this short article—it may open their eyes.