Improving Oncologist-Patient Relationships: Three Steps for Doctors and Three Steps for Patients

med-oncologist-the-cancer-center-at-blue-ridge-healthcareA recent article titled What do cancer patients need from Oncologists? highlights important deficiencies in oncologist-patient relationships. The following advice encourages better patient communications from doctors and more satisfying doctor visits for their patients.

For Oncologists

No. 1 — Ask Patient How Involved They Want to Be in Treatment Decisions: Oncologists can set a positive, friendly tone with their patients right from the first visit. Ask how involved patients would like to be in future treatment decision-making. If they would like to be active in their care, ask which aspects of evaluating treatments are most important to them (quality of life improvement, side effect types and potentials, financial concerns, among others) and acknowledge these during your discussions. If cost for treatment weighs heavily on a patient’s mind, be sure they meet with a patient navigator to help address these concerns.

No. 2 – Help Patients with Their Research Efforts: Dedicate time during patient visits to discuss research. Oncologists can help guide a patient’s or caregiver’s research efforts by providing a summary, or synthesis, of specifics about the patient’s diagnosis and treatment. This way, there is a better chance patients are reading information relevant to their specific case. This summary can include the cancer’s subtype and stage, co-morbid conditions, latest lab results, and treatment regimen.


No. 3 – Point Patients in the Right “Informational” Direction: Recommend only trusted websites like the American Cancer Society ( and the National Cancer Institute ( Some of the major pharmaceutical players in chemotherapy also have patient-friendly resources, news on emerging treatments, and may have contact information for patients looking for financial assistance for their treatment regimens. Examples include Novartis ( and Janssen (

For Patients and Caregivers

While the onus is typically on the doctor (who has been through these situations before) to ensure a smooth relationship, there are a number of steps patients and their caregivers can take to facilitate good teamwork in their battle against cancer.

No. 1 – Establish Treatment Goals: Like an efficient business meeting, doctor visits should be focused with everyone being on the same page. Work with your oncologist to establish treatment goals and address these at every visit.

No. 2 – Prepare for Every Office Visit: A written or typed agenda detailing what to cover can also be helpful to prepare. Due to the limited time allotted for each visit, prioritize your agenda and the questions you plan to ask. Take notes or bring an audio recorder to your visits to help you accurately capture and remember what was discussed.


No. 3 – Bring a Friend, or Two: It is highly-recommended to being along at least one companion to your visits to help with remembering vital information, but try to keep your guest count to no more than 4-5 people. It is a good idea to designate one caregiver as your official note-taker. Ask your doctor’s office for permission to allow this person to call in when important questions come up between visits. As at any healthcare visit, patients and caregivers should never hesitate to correct any misinformation about their case, nor should they hesitate to ask for clarification on what is being discussed.

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For patients and caregivers dedicated to ensuring a fruitful relationship with their oncologist, being informed is a great approach. Remember that because information on the web is not tailored to your specific case, the Internet is best used for general education on cancer; an oncologist will always be the best source for information specific to your case. The extra effort of connecting with another oncologist is often extremely beneficial.

There are several services, such as Cancer Expert Now (, that provide fast access to the top oncologists, who can provide patients and their caregivers an alternate perspective and additional information. Cancer Expert Now’s network of oncologists are among the most renowned, and often have insight into the latest clinical trials, treatment methods and research for specific types of cancers. While the Internet provides broad information, nothing beats the opportunity to reach an expert quickly and ask an expert directly.

The author would like to thank Dr. Sanjiv Agarwala for his help in writing this article.

About the Author

Kimberly Biedka, PharmD, RPh, is a Patient Engagement Officer with Cancer Expert Now. Her professional interests include oncology, patient and healthcare provider education, MTM, and medical writing. Cancer Expert Now helps cancer patients and their doctors achieve optimal health care treatment by providing fast, customized information about their cancer management from top cancer experts.  This empowers physicians and patients to more rapidly make decisions and initiate optimal treatment earlier, regardless of location.  Please visit or connect with CEN on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.