Together, with good communication, we can achieve better health

Doctor and patient

Communication between patients with chronic illness and their providers is incredibly important, but too often it’s not very effective. Communication improves when patients become advocates for themselves. When I say advocate, I mean being an active participant in your care and speaking up for yourself with your health care team.

There are many reasons for poor communication in health care, but you can learn techniques to help you become a better advocate for yourself and improve communication with your health care team.

When you are diagnosed with an illness there is no manual that tells you how to be a patient or manage your care. Once you know your diagnosis, this is when your homework begins. Sometimes you may be given a pamphlet on the disease from your doctor, but much of your research will need to be on your own. Of course, this can be more complex if you have a chronic illness like kidney disease, or if you have two or more illnesses at the same time.

Learn as much as you can about your condition and write down questions to ask your nurse or doctor. If you think of questions after your appointment has ended and you are back at home, you can call the doctor’s office and leave a message with the receptionist, medical assistant or a nurse. You may not get a response right away, but try to be patient. Remember, you as the patient are the most important part of the care team and asking questions is a great way to make sure you have all the information you need.

Another common barrier to communication that you may experience is feeling as though you don’t have a say in your treatment. Depending on your illness, there are specific care plans and recommendations that guide your treatment and care. But it is important that the health care team also takes your lifestyle into consideration. As the patient, you need to ask questions, and be open and honest if your current life situation won’t work well with the recommended treatment. Talk to your provider about how to meet in the middle. Finding this compromise starts with having an open and honest conversation about your health, living situation and finances.

Treating kidney disease comes with its own unique challenges. It is very common for kidney patients to have multiple doctors, and as a kidney patient, you must make sure your doctors are sharing information. Sometimes your providers do not have conversations with each other about your care unless something goes wrong. Providers rely on their patients to keep communication flowing.

For example, if your cardiologist changes a medication you take, they may not share this information with your nephrologist. That’s why it’s so important for you to communicate any changes or new information with your nephrologist. In this example, you can suggest your nephrologist call your cardiologist if they need more information. This type of communication can reduce the possibility of having a bad reaction to medications.

The key to improving communication is becoming an advocate for yourself. Do your own research, develop a good relationship with key members of your care staff, and communicate information openly and honestly.

Join Diana Collins and the American Kidney Fund on Wednesday, January 24 at 1pm for “Together we can achieve health,” a free webinar on becoming a stronger advocate and how to alleviate common patient-provider miscommunication.

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About the Author

Diana M. Collins MSN, APRN

Diana Collins is a nurse educator and an Army Veteran who works as a clinical instructor at Delaware Technical Community College. She is passionate about teaching patients to effectively advocate about their health care.

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