Managing Healthcare: 7 Tips to Improve Communication

Managing Healthcare: 7 Tips to Improve Communication
| by Marina Emery

One day, a daughter, in the throws of her mother’s new cancer diagnosis, called me on the verge of tears. She was given bad news that day. It appeared that her mom’s cancer had spread. “Can you just take over?”

She had been diligently managing as much of the care coordination as she could, spending hours every day on calls with insurance, doctor’s offices, the hospital, the home health company, imaging facilities, nurses, secretaries, call centers… She hadn’t had a minute to take in what was happening. She hadn’t had an hour to process, to be upset, to just deal with the anguish that was building inside of her. And worse, she hadn’t had the time to just be with her mother and family.

Treatment is HARD. Managing and coordinating the treatment is HARD. There is so much to do. I’ve spent the last 15 years working in it and it is still hard. The biggest and most dangerous problem in healthcare is communication, so if you’re going to prioritize anything, prioritize that. Here’s how:

7 Tips to Improve Communication

1. Save as much contact information as possible any time you can get your hands on it. Record every log in, phone, and fax number. It can even help to know the layout of the facility you’re going to (often, staff roles and contact numbers are associated with physical locations).

2. Learn people’s names, their specific roles and positions in the medical hierarchy (charge nurse, nurse practitioner, resident, fellow, attending, etc, etc). This can help with accountability in communications. Hierarchy in medicine and the chain of command is real and has real implications on care. Not sure what these mean? Click here for a glossary of medical positions.

3. Remember what each practice is responsible for and capable of. It saves a lot of time when you know who to ask for what.

4. Keep your Primary Care and Primary Caregiver (for example, if you have cancer, this is your medical oncologist) updated. They are the quarterbacks of your care and should have the most complete picture of your situation. No, your doctors don’t necessarily talk to each other after they see you. If you saw a specialist, your PCP won’t know unless you tell them.

5. Get copies of medical records so you have documentation to share with each of your providers. Your providers can only access each others’ notes and results if you’re seeing providers that share an electronic record system. Otherwise, they need the paper copies either in hand or faxed to them. I can’t stress enough how important it is for a new provider to have all of your medical records when you see them for the first time. Without it, they are making a lot of assumptions based on word of mouth which can be a big waste of a visit for you and them.

6. Keep a Journal. Whether you’re in the hospital or clinic, you’re going to retell your story over and over again to each new provider you encounter. Keeping a journal in timeline format will make this repeated regurgitation more efficient and useful for your care team, and less frustrating for you (see my blog post on how to get the most out of your medical visit ).

7. Write EVERYTHING down.

This is a lot! But it’s also just skimming the surface. Managing your healthcare journey is unavoidably hands on and time consuming. It requires organization, a steely temperament, and persistence to coordinate all of the moving parts to get what you need.

If you’re caring for someone with a chronic disease like cancer, or multiple chronic diseases, you can burn out pretty quickly. Managing all of this… frankly, it doesn’t leave you with much time or energy to do what’s really important — to physically and emotionally take care of you and your loved ones.

But, you don’t have to do this alone! Ask for help, even if just for a day — whether it’s from a friend, family member, or Patient Advocate like myself. Asking me for help allowed the daughter at the beginning of this post to cook and eat a meal with her mother, surrounded by her siblings; to spend a day hugging, laughing, and crying with them; to take a deep breath, get a good night’s sleep and dig back in to making calls the next day.