How you work with care providers, and how involved your communication is, depends on the type of care, the care provider, and the patient. For instance, if you are working with in-home health care providers, you have a lot of close contact and regular communication. For your primary care provider or family physician, communication is more sparse but still important.

Working well with the professionals who provide you and your loved ones with care, from unskilled home workers to nurses and therapists to physicians and specialists, is important for getting the best possible care. Clear communication is crucial, and this includes listening carefully and respectfully, asking questions, and being sure that you are heard.

Communication in Healthcare is Crucial

The importance of good communication in working with healthcare providers cannot be overstated. Communication is important between healthcare workers and between patients, patient advocates and families, and healthcare providers. Research has actually found that when communication between these parties is systematic and clear, patients get better care, hospital stays are shorter, and outcomes are generally better all around.

Other studies have found that doctors and other care providers routinely do not provide patients and families with all the information about an illness, treatment options, and other care factors. Patients want and need more information to be better able to make decisions. Taking steps to work with your care providers and to emphasize communication are well worth the positive outcomes.

General Tips for Working and Communicating with Healthcare Workers

There are nearly infinite numbers of situations in healthcare, from visiting an urgent clinic and working with a nurse there one time to having ongoing care in the home with a team of healthcare workers. Regardless of the specific level or type of care, being able to work well with healthcare providers and to communicate effectively is crucial for good care. Here are some general tips to help you better work with healthcare providers of all types:

  • Ask as many questions as you need.
  • Prepare questions in advance of meeting with a healthcare professional.
  • Demand enough time to get your questions answered, but also be respectful of a caregiver’s time. If you need more time to talk, schedule a second meeting.
  • Involve all decision-makers in meetings with healthcare providers, including the patient.
  • Write notes and questions down as they arise during meetings.
  • Ask that you get a thorough explanation of all treatment options before making decisions.
  • Provide healthcare workers with written directives if you or a loved one has specific requests that you want to be followed.
  • Learn what the duties and responsibilities are for each caregiver you work with, and be sure to address the right person with questions and concerns.
  • Learn more about your health condition, or about the condition your loved one is being treated for.
  • Provide caregivers with all necessary information about yourself or your loved one who is receiving care. They cannot do their jobs effectively if you hide information.
  • Check in regularly with caregivers of loved ones who are receiving ongoing care.
  • Always follow up after meetings or when changes are made to care.
  • Be present and involved with caregivers of loved ones who are in assisted living or nursing homes.
  • When you have concerns to address with caregivers, check your emotions. Be calm even if you are angry. Yelling does not accomplish anything and may only cause the caregiver to shut down or get defensive.
  • If you do yell or get angry, be prepared to apologize for your reaction later to help maintain a positive and professional relationship.
  • When care is going well and you see professionals doing their jobs well, speak up. Express your appreciation with a kind word or by telling supervisors about it.

Working with In-Home Caregivers

In-home care is a special type of care that is more involved than visits with a regular doctor or a specialist. Whether it is you or a loved one receiving care from an in-home worker, the relationship you develop with this person will help determine the quality of care. Many of the general tips apply here, but it is especially important to ask questions, make plans for care, stay involved and engaged, and to develop a positive relationship with open communication.

Whether your in-home care providers are skilled nurses or nursing assistants, unskilled workers assisting with chores and mobility, or both, it is important in working with them to have clear expectations. Before work begins, have a meeting with all stakeholders and discuss in detail what the care providers will and will not be expected to do. After agreeing on roles, put it in writing and make sure everyone has a copy. Update this list as needed, but always make sure everyone is in agreement and understands changing roles as you go forward with adjustments.

If you have in-home care for a loved one and cannot always be home with them, you may feel more comfortable setting up a camera to observe and check in. This is a reasonable thing to do, but it is also a professional courtesy to inform your home care workers that you will be doing it. You don’t have to tell them where or how many cameras you will have, but they should know that they will be observed.

Working with Staff in Residential Facilities

Another special case of care is when you have a loved one in a nursing home, in hospice care, in memory care, or in some other type of residential facility. In these situations you have a whole team of care providers doing everything from providing meals and assistance with mobility to skilled nursing and specialty medical care.

When your loved one first enters a residential facility, be sure that you meet and greet every caregiver you can who will be working with him or her. Tell the staff members about your loved one, and consider writing up a short life history, likes and dislikes, and other information that will help them get to know their patient better.

Make sure you are involved in all meetings regarding your loved ones care, health state, and changes to the care plan. Being involved and engaged with what the staff is doing is the best way you can ensure your loved one is getting good care. Follow up after these meetings and any changes to the care plan and ask any questions or address any concerns you have. Many residential facilities have a family council, a group of family members and friends who meet to talk about issues in care. Joining this group can help you better learn and communicate with the staff and other residents’ families.

Working with care providers, in any type of healthcare setting, is a necessity if you want to get the best and most effective care, either for you or for a loved one. If you are the one who is ill, it is not always easy to communicate, so be sure you have one or more people to advocate for you. When communication and relationships in care are strengthened, patients benefit.