Communicating with the Doctor and Other Health Care Professionals


February 9, 2021

As a caregiver, practicing clear communication will help you be a more effective and a better advocate for the person in your care. Because good communication helps people clear up misunderstandings and confusion quickly, builds positive relationships and leads to better care.

Steps to Effective Communication

Establish presence

  • Make eye contact with every person in the medical profession.
  • Call them by name and introduce yourself by name and that you are ‘caregiver’ for your relative or friend.
  • Focus your attention and listen with your “heart” as well as your mind.

Participate actively
To make your doctor’s visit more effective:

  • Be prepared—Think about your goals for your appointment.
  • Clearly state your purpose—Give the reason why you need medical help.
  • Give relevant information—Focus on the most important information first. Avoid information that is not current or relevant.
  • Ask questions—Be certain you understand what is taking place, what your care receiver needs, and what you should be doing.
  • Be assertive—Without being aggressive, rude or overbearing, explain your needs and what you are not able to do.

Build Mutual Understanding
Building understanding and trust is a process. Practice the following and your ability to communicate will grow stronger.

  • Active listening—Really listen and paraphrase what you heard. This also helps clarify information for the care receiver and ‘decode’ jargon.
  • Ask for clarification—Try to understand the meaning that the speaker intends.
  • Ask questions—Check your understanding by saying “The part that isn’t clear to me is…” “Can you clarify what you mean by……………?”
  • Demonstrate Understanding—Use phrases such as “So what you are saying is…”
  • Avoid Assumptions—Ask questions until you are sure of what is being said. Say “If I understand you right, you mean…”
  • State your difficulties and concerns—If you have a worry or concern, state them briefly and clearly.
  • Encourage collaboration— Work actively as part of a team. You are an important part of the overall health and independence of your care receiver.
  • Focus on common goals—Agree on the actions that need to be taken to achieve those goals.
  • Clarify responsibilities—Be clear on who is responsible for what. Make sure that the people involved can do what they are responsible for. If needed, get extra help along the way with a particular task.
  • Speak openly and honestly—Explain how you and the person in your care are responding emotionally to the treatment plan.
  • Help with problem solving—As the caregiver, you have important information about what may be contributing to problems or causing difficulties. Share this information with the health care team.
  • Express appreciation—Remember to say “thank you.”


Use facts, rather than opinions or assumptions, to describe medical problems. Say, “Mother has been coughing for two weeks” rather than “I think she has bronchitis.”
Bring list of current medications including dosage and any supplements to every appointment.

Adapted from Communicating Effectively with HealthCare Professionals © 2002 National Family Caregivers Association with assistance from the National Alliance for Caregiving.

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