6/30/2022 | By Darlene Edwards

Communication is an essential tool in successfully navigating the health care journey. Successful patient communications during a serious illness are vital, between the patient, medical providers, family, friends, and associates.

During several long and arduous health care journeys for myself and relatives, I learned firsthand the importance of effective patient communications – such a basic component of life, but one of the most difficult to accomplish successfully. While much health care literature involves improving clinician-patient communications, the patient’s ability to communicate successfully with the rest of their network is also important.

If you’re a patient facing a difficult diagnosis and treatment, your provider team, family, friends, and associates can play an important role in your treatment and recovery.

Patients and providers

Emotions and your provider

A serious diagnosis most likely leaves you shocked and scared, making it even more challenging to openly discuss your fears. However, sharing your thoughts, feelings, and concerns with your provider helps them develop your best treatment plan.

In addition, if providers know your concerns, they can better connect you with appropriate support groups or community resources to calm the emotional rollercoaster ride.

Your provider

patient with doctor and daughter - Photo by Vadimgozhda, Dreamstime. Patient communications during a serious illness – with medical providers, family, friends, and associates – help in navigating the journey.

Finding a trusted provider is the most important step you can take when beginning your health care journey. Even providers who are among the best in their fields may not possess positive communication skills or bedside manner. Often, the nurses may be your better choice for providing emotional support and for communicating your concerns to the primary provider. If patient communications with your provider’s team never seems to get comfortable and the dialogue is always one way, consider a second treatment opinion.

Information for the treatment team

While navigating any serious illness, it’s essential that you provide accurate and up-to-date information to your providers. Let your team know when the symptoms started, treatments so far, and your current medications. When your diagnosis is still uncertain, you may face a gauntlet of tests, needles, machines, and providers, but ultimately this takes you to the goal of finding the proper treatment. Asking questions about each of the procedures will help to alleviate some concerns.

Related: What does home health care do?

Keeping track of communications

Even though it may feel daunting, always take notes during visits with your provider. Jot down questions beforehand, and record answers, including dates and times. Consider taking a trusted friend or family member to help with this, perhaps someone who is less emotionally involved and thus better able to process information in the moment. Having comprehensive notes also provides a crucial foundation when facilitating communications with your providers, family, and friends.

Patient communications with family, friends, and associates

Identifying your support network

cancer patient and friend - Photo by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz, Dreamstime. Patient communications during a serious illness – with medical providers, family, friends, and associates – help in navigating the journey.

The emotions caused by a medical crisis can make it hard to focus, rest, or even accomplish daily activities. It is important to identify where you can share your feelings or concerns – as with a spouse, family member, friend, or neighbor. Rely on these individuals and let them provide support. It takes a village.

How to communicate with your network

Schedule time with loved ones for regular communications, such as with a video call or face to face. These gatherings offer opportunities to answer questions and concerns and provide a helpful outlet for collaborative discussions. This critical step assists immensely with reducing anxiety and encouraging regular family communication.

Related: Sharing an illness on social media

Help you may not know you need

Friends and associates can throw you a lifeline, too. By offer-ing a listening ear, running errands, or driving you to appointments, these wonderful people can provide much-needed support. If you cannot determine what your needs are at the mo-ment, let your support team know that you are still processing what is going on in your life. Ask them to give you a moment to consider how they can help and then share your ideas with them.

Internal communication for self-care

Patient communications with oneself is an important component of managing a serious illness.

Negative thoughts

There is so much to think about when receiving a life-changing diagnosis. Paralyzing fear and negative thoughts about self and others can lead you to envision a totally hopeless outcome. Many people search the internet or other avenues to seek immediate emo-tional relief. However, I’d recommend resisting social media diagnosis or treatment plans, which can range from needlessly frightening to wrong and deadly. Leave the diagnosis, prog-nosis, and treatment plan up to the health care professionals who are trained to recognize and treat your disease.

Communicating encouragement

Internal communication is one of the most difficult parts of handling a serious diagnosis. To calm your thoughts, find quotes or mantras that encourage you and articles or books that speak to your spirit and uplift you. When you have an internal self-talk, remind YOU to celebrate success – even daily successes. Whether it is keeping food settled on your stomach, taking a short walk, or doing one of your normal household tasks, you need to hear and have these messages of accomplishment reinforced in your head and heart.

Related: Your journey is yours – even if your friends make odd requests

Nurturing connections

Enhancing communications

Connecting with your network will help you find support during the challenges of facing a serious illness. Enabling the network to share information saves you valuable time and helps ease some day-to-day tasks. Social media apps can serve as a helpful communication tool between family, friends, and associates who need information about how the patient is progressing and their needs.

One of the best outcomes

A compassionate network of providers, family, and friends makes a difficult situation more bearable and creates stronger more resilient relationships. Most importantly, patient communications with these valuable people provides needed light through the darkness of a serious health care challenge.

Related: Five ways to know that hospice is the right move

Darlene Edwards

Darlene Edwards is a nurse and hospital communication manage. She has been married for 42 years and has two adult daughters, a beautiful granddaughter, and an amazing son-in-law. Darlene is also a multiple cancer survivor.