Navigating Your Healthcare Team

Written by Gina Baldacci, LCSW

Navigating the healthcare system and all that it entails can certainly feel (and be) overwhelming after receiving a cancer diagnosis. However, know that you are not alone in this process. In addition to your treatment team, there are many other resources and supports. As a former hospital social worker, the themes identified during our CWC staff chat really come from years of listening and learning from people like yourselves who have had to navigate healthcare all while navigating a cancer diagnosis.

Some tips and topics discussed during the staff chat include:

  1. Entering the healthcare system:
    • Meeting your oncologist (and primary treatment team) & learning the roles of the different members of the team
    • Understanding that there is often a team approach to care but you will receive education on who to go with specific questions or concerns
    • Asking your doctor about experiences treating other patients with your same condition
  1. Asking Questions:
    • Remember that ALL questions are good questions
    • Be sure to ask for clarification if needed; it’s okay to say “I don’t understand”, “I’m confused” or “I need more information”
    • As members of the medical team, we expect that patients have questions!
  2. Second Opinions:
    • Getting a second opinion is normal and quite common
    • Talk with your doctor – he/she can often help facilitate with the second opinion process
    • At the end of the day, it is important that you feel comfortable with your treatment decisions
    • As members of the medical team, we expect that patients have questions and ask about other treatments
    • Remember your treatment site also gives second opinions.
    • Is this someone else on your treatment team you can speak with if not your doctor?  Is there someone else you trust?
  3. Preparing for Initial Visit 
    • Bringing someone with you if possible (to hear the information being presented)
    • Bring a notebook/journal to write down information
    • Remembering that everyone understands and processes information differently so, again, be prepared to ask questions to ensure you understand.
  4. Register with your hospital online medical record/portal:
    • Allows for ongoing communication (of non-emergencies) with your medical team
    • Allows for all members of your medical teams (who may be working in different parts of the hospital) to see your communication with various providers.
  5. Preparing for Ongoing Treatment:
    • Whether your treatment is inpatient (in the hospital) or outpatient (in a clinic or in an infusion center), your education about your illness will be ongoing.
  6. Resources:
    • Ask to meet with a social worker or patient navigator to see what supports may be available to you or your family.
    • There may be transportation, financial, educational, community and/or emotional supports available.
    • I will always encourage an initial meeting with social work (within a month of diagnosis) so that patients are at least aware of what resources and supports are available.

To learn more or to watch the full CWC Staff Chat, click the video below.