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Terminal conditions require communication with physicians

June 07, 2004|by Susan Lyons

Facing a serious illness or terminal condition is one of the most difficult situations an individual can experience - whether it is your own personal illness or that of someone you love. Having the knowledge and communication tools to participate in developing a treatment plan with your health-care provider can reduce anxiety and fear, plus provide the individual or family member with feelings of control in an often uncontrollable situation.

Where does the average person start to get the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions and know what questions to ask? You start by having open, honest conversations with the primary-care physician or specialist who will be directing the majority of your care. Don't be timid or afraid to ask questions when you don't understand the terms the physician is using. Take a trusted companion to the consultation to be your second set of ears and ask them to take notes for you. Many physicians will allow you to record your consultation if you ask for permission.

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Feeling overwhelmed with information is a natural response, so take your time to process what you've heard. Also ask the physician who you should call in their office with additional questions. A registered nurse, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant who is familiar with your care can answer most of your questions. Knowing who you will be talking with can really help minimize feelings of helplessness, and it will help them to anticipate some of your concerns.

Keep a journal. Record all diagnostic tests and lab work that are being ordered for you, plus their purpose and their results. This will be a great tool if you are referred to another specialist along the way. Whatever the goal of treatment - finding a cure, maximizing quality of life, minimizing symptoms, or preparing for a peaceful death - the journey begins with those first steps as you leave your physician's office.




Susan Lyons is a palliative care specialist and a member of the Health Management Department at Washington County Hospital.

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