The role of family caregivers in cancer care communication

Proper communication between cancer patients, their caregivers and doctors helps to improve the former’s wellbeing and quality of life. According to the National Cancer Institute, when patients with cancer, family caregivers, and the medical care team communicate well each with the others, the patient:

·         Is more satisfied with care,

·         Feels more in control,

·         Is more informed,

·         Is more likely to participate in clinical trials,

·         And is better able to transition from active care to palliative care.

Unfortunately, a person who has been diagnosed with cancer may understandably feel scared, confused, and anxious from the very beginning, impairing their ability to establish sound communication with the healthcare team. And yet, communication is not only important at the very moment of diagnosis, but also – and especially – whenever treatment-related decisions need to be made, as well after treatment, at any time goals of care change, and when the care receiver makes decisions about living will and other advanced directives. The caregiver can act as a liaison between patient and doctor in order to help achieve the goals of cancer care communication, such as:

·         Building a trusting relationship between the patient, family caregivers, and the health care team.

·         Helping the patient, family caregivers, and healthcare team members share information with one another.

·         Helping the patient and family talk about feelings and concerns.

It is important to note that communicating with physicians helps the caregiver as much as it does the patient. Caregivers who receive specific and practical information from the medical care team fulfill their roles more confidently, and can help their loved ones make better care decisions. Caregivers could potentially help with communication problems as well, should any arise during treatment. Examples of instances where there are communication problems include:

·         The patient doesn’t fully understand all the facts about cancer treatment.

·         The healthcare providers do not convey information in way that the patient can comprehend.

·         The patient is under the impression that the doctor will share all of the important information and does not ask follow-up questions.

·         The patient is shy about asking too many questions.

·         The patient may not want to take a lot of the doctor’s time and thus refrains from asking questions.

The caregiver might be able to address or even circumvent these problems by preparing for doctor’s appointments in advance. The following materials could be helpful in that endeavor:

·         A file or notebook with the patient’s medical information, including test and procedure dates, test results, and other records.

·         A list of names and doses of medicines and how often they are taken.

·         Personal research about the medical condition from authoritative sources.

·         A list of questions and concern, ordered from most to least important.

Additionally, you can

·         Ask whether you can schedule a longer appointment if you need more time.

·         Ask questions by phone or email.

·         Talk with a nurse or other member of the medical care team.

·         Bring a tape recorder or take notes so that later on you can listen to or review what you discussed.

·         Bring a relative or friend to the doctor visit to help you remember important information following the visit.

Here are some of the questions that a caregiver might want to ask his or her loved one’s doctor:

·         What medical records to bring to treatment?

·         What can the patient do to get ready for treatment beforehand?

·         How long will the treatment last?

·         Can the patient go to and from treatment alone?

·         Should someone else go along?

·         Can a relative be present during treatment?

·         What can be done to help the patient feel more comfortable during treatment?

·         What are the side effects of treatment?

·         What problems should be watched for following treatment?

·         When should a doctor be called?

·         Who can help with questions about filing insurance claims?

Related: Dealing With Cancer Pain: Management And Treatment Possibilities