Working With Your Healthcare Team

You’re the most important part. Take an active role in your healthcare.

Use these resources to help you take an active role in your healthcare.

Tips for Talking with Your Healthcare Team

Patient and their companion talking to heathcare provider in a hospital settingHere are a few tips to keep in mind before, during, and after you visit your healthcare team, including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, dieticians, and more. You can also download this information to your device or print.

Before Your Visit:

    • Write down how you feel, questions, symptoms, and concerns

When it’s time to speak with your healthcare team, do you forget what you wanted to ask? Most of us do. Writing down a list of questions, symptoms, and concerns ahead of time can help. When you’re done, mark the most important things. Use the Symptom Tracker and Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team as guides.

    • Ask a family member or friend to go with you

Asking someone you trust to go with you to your appointment can be useful. Your companion can help you with questions, write down instructions, and remember explanations. You may also identify someone as your Designated Support Persons / Essential Care Partner—they will play a more active role on your healthcare team.

Note: During the COVID-19 pandemic a companion may not always be permitted, you can ask before your appointment about the current restrictions.

If you do go alone, you may want to bring a notepad and pen to take notes, or record the session. Most smartphones have a built-in audio recorder, or you can download one as an app, such as Alberta Health Services’ My Care Conversations Recording App. Your healthcare team will likely agree to be recorded, but be sure to ask first.

    • List all your medications and dosage

Take along a current list of the prescription and non-prescription medications you use, including things such as vitamins and herbal remedies. Create a medication list to get started. Your healthcare team needs to know everything you’re taking. Having a list makes it easy for you to remember and for your team to review.

During Your Visit:

    • Start the conversation

Use your list of questions, symptoms, and concerns to tell your healthcare team what you want to discuss and what you want to get from the appointment. Explain what concerns you most. If your list is long, you may need to plan together how best to handle things – you might need another appointment to cover everything or to follow up.

Tip: If you have any concerns, call ahead to inform the clinic you may need some extra time or ask if you need additional appointments.

    • Discuss what the different options could be

Make sure you understand the advantages and disadvantages of treatment options. It’s important to understand the full impact of the suggested treatment and any side effects that you might experience. Take the time you need to understand your options. Use Questions to Ask about Your Treatment Options as a guide.

    • Ask for more information or resources about your concerns, medication, or any treatment options

Ask questions like: “Are there other resources available where I can learn more?” By asking your healthcare team for more information, you get accurate and reliable information to learn more about your concerns at your own pace. If they don’t have resources handy, they should be able to tell you where to find them.

    • Write down or record instructions and information you’re given before you leave

Studies show that even when we feel we understand our healthcare teams’ instructions during our visit, there’s a good chance it may not all make sense by the time we get home.

Tip: Write down instructions and information immediately — or record it (with your team’s permission) so you can go over it later. You may find Alberta Health Services’ My Care Conversations Recording App useful for recording conversations.

    • Repeat back the instructions given to you and practise any steps in front of your healthcare team

This ensures the whole team, you included, understands what needs to be done. A simple sentence like: “Let me see if I understand you correctly….” can help you process the information with your healthcare team and help your team clarify any information.

Examples include:

  1. Having your doctor listen while you explain in your own words what you need to do and why
  2. Showing the home care nurse how you will operate equipment (e.g., oxygen tank)
  3. Repeating back to your pharmacist the instructions for taking your medicine
    • Confirm who from the team should be your main contact and when and how you can expect to hear from them

Find out how your healthcare team handles test results and how long they typically take. Also ask them about special appointments. Some doctors only call or schedule an appointment if further follow-up is needed. It’s important to know what to expect so you can follow up.

After Your Visit:

    • Follow up with appointments

If you need tests, make appointments at the lab or other offices as soon as possible. Confirm how long the results may take to get to your healthcare team.

    • Call back if you have any concerns

It’s normal and common to feel confused or misunderstood. Don’t hesitate to call your healthcare team whenever:

    1. You have questions.
    2. Your symptoms get worse.
    3. You have problems with your medicine.
    4. You are waiting on test results or to schedule an appointment, and you haven’t heard back in the time agreed upon. You can clarify with your healthcare team what to expect in terms of follow-up communication.

If you cannot reach your healthcare provider and need health advice or information, call Health Link 24/7 by dialing 8-1-1.

Download and print Tips for Talking with Your Healthcare Team

Symptom Tracker

Image of person writing on notepad

Not feeling well? Notice a change that seems unusual? Write down the answers to the questions in the Symptom Tracker before you see your healthcare team and take them to your next appointment.

This way you won’t have to worry about remembering and your healthcare team will get the information they need to help you.

Describe what has changed recently. Do you have new or worse pain/discomfort? Are you unable to do things you could do two weeks ago? Have there been changes in your thinking, memory, or mood? Is your sleep different? Appetite? Bathroom habits?

  1. What are you experiencing that feels bad, or different, or unusual?
  2. When did it start?
  3. How often does it happen?
  4. If you have pain, describe it. Can you use an image or an example? Is it sharp, dull, shooting, aching?
  5. Is there anything you can no longer do or is difficult to do because of how you feel?
  6. Is there anything that makes you feel worse or better?

Be open. Be honest. Get well.

You might feel like you don’t want to bother your healthcare team with the little concern you’ve noticed after your treatment or after starting your new medication, but no detail is too small to share. If it matters to you, it will matter to your healthcare team. Although you might feel embarrassed about some changes, it’s up to you to say something. For instance, mention changes to your bowel movements (e.g., constipation, bloody stools); changes in getting to the bathroom on time; and so on. Medical professionals deal with the human body every day and they live in human bodies of their own — so there’s no need to be shy, hesitant, or embarrassed.

Download and print Symptom Tracker

Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team

Patient asking questions to healthcare provider in a doctor's office

Be an active participant:

If you don’t understand what your healthcare team is telling you, let them know right away. Be open and honest. You could say:

  • “This is new to me. Would you mind explaining it slowly, using language that is easier to understand?”
  • “Can you show me a picture or model to help me understand?”

Medical terms can be technical and hard to understand. Ask for explanations and examples to ensure you fully understand them.

  1. What do I need to know? Is there a current concern? If so, what is it?
  2. What does this mean?
  3. What are my next steps?
  4. Why is it important for me to do this?

Download and print Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team

Questions to Ask About Your Treatment Options

Patient asking questions about treatment options with healthcare provider

If you need to choose between treatment options, here are some important questions to get answered before you decide:

  • What are the possible treatments?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment option?
  • What other effects may occur?
  • How will this treatment make me feel?
  • How long will the treatment take and how often does it have to be done?
  • How likely is it that the treatment will work for me?
  • What results can I expect? Are there any other choices?

Some important questions to ask before undergoing any treatment:

  • Do I really need this test, treatment, or procedure? Why or why not?
  • What are the downsides?
  • Are there simpler or safer options? Can you explain these to me?
  • Will my insurance/benefits cover this treatment? Are there similar options that are more affordable?
  • What happens if I do nothing?
  • If this (possible outcome) happens, then what should I expect and what should I do next?

Download and print Questions to Ask About Your Treatment Options

Tips for Managing Your Medications

Used properly, medications can ease your health problem, improve your general condition, and even save your life. So it’s important to monitor, use them correctly, and ensure they’re up-to-date.

Below is a simple checklist to help you ensure that you’re getting the full benefit from your prescribed medications. You can also download this information to your device.

  • Read the label on the package – every time.
  • Follow directions carefully. If you don’t understand them, ask before you leave the pharmacy or call the pharmacy phone number on the prescription label. Ask about any abbreviations that you are unsure about.
  • Ask if your medications need to be taken until fully completed.
  • Ask your healthcare team about what activities you might need to stop doing while on your medication – like driving, or consuming alcohol or cannabis.
  • Let your healthcare team know if you don’t feel well after taking a prescription or non-prescription medication.
  • Get help right away if you think you’re experiencing side effects* or adverse reactions** to your medications. Note: call 9-1-1 if you are having difficulty breathing or have other life-threatening symptoms. Otherwise, you can contact HealthLink at 8-1-1 for assistance in deciding where and when to get help with side effects or adverse reactions.
  • Keep an up-to-date record of all the medication you take including prescription and non-prescription medications (including dosage) as well as dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbal remedies.
  • Know your medications. If you take more than one, make sure you’re able to tell them apart by size, shape, or colour.
  • Take only your own medications and do not share your medication with others.
  • Share your medication list with your healthcare team each time you visit.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about the cost of medication when talking about treatment options. Your healthcare team can help you understand differences between no-name and name brand medications and the costs of each.
  • Tell your healthcare team about your allergies (including new ones) and reactions you’ve had to medications in the past.
  • Regularly ask your healthcare team if there are medications you no longer need. For more information, visit deprescribingnetwork.ca.
  • Check the expiry date on medications. Take expired or unused medications to your pharmacy for safe disposal (do not save these).

*Side effects are changes that medications might cause besides what they’re supposed to do. Before you take any medication, your healthcare team should tell you about possible side effects and how long they might last. You could ask to have the medication changed if the side effects bother you. There might be another medication that suits you better. Discuss with your healthcare team which side effects you should report or be mindful of.

**Adverse reactions are more serious than side effects and don’t happen very often.

Examples include:

  • A severe allergic reaction with difficulty breathing, skin rash, itching, or swelling
  • Feeling faint and having a racing heart
  • Feeling sick to your stomach, throwing up, or severe diarrhea
  • Depression to the point of considering suicide

If you think you’re having an adverse drug reaction, contact your healthcare team right away. In an emergency, dial 9-1-1.

Need help with your medication?

Start by calling your pharmacy. Call whenever:

  • You need help understanding your medications.
  • You have questions about medications or herbal remedies.
  • You want help making more informed and safe decisions about medications.
  • You think you may be having side effects.
  • You’re pregnant or breastfeeding and have questions about the safety of medications or herbal products for your baby.

Pharmacy staff are on your team:

Ask them any questions you have about your prescription or non-prescription medications. They’re experts. If you use one pharmacy for all your prescriptions, your pharmacist can look at your complete personal drug history to keep track of the medications you take.

Here’s what your pharmacy team can do for you:

  • Help you get the most out of your medication by sharing important information about what it does and how to use it.
  • Help you stay safe by telling you which activities, foods, prescription and non-prescription medications, and herbal remedies to avoid with your medications.
  • Help you come up with a system to remember to take your medications and to take them at the right time.
  • Tell you about special packaging that will work for you.

Make your life easier:

  • Ask your pharmacy team about medication reminder devices such as calendars, mini-alarms, or blister packs.
  • For people who take several medications, pill boxes with various compartments (called dosettes) can help.
  • You can also ask for pre-filled pill boxes/dosettes or request bottles without childproof lids.
  • Your pharmacy maybe able to print large and/or flat labels to make your prescription instructions easier to read.
  • Your pharmacy may offer free delivery of medications. Be sure to ask.

Packaging can help:

    • Blister pack
      Blister pack with blue and white capsules

A blister pack is a method of packing medications where each dose is placed in a small plastic bubble and backed by a sheet of foil. Medications are organized by day, usually for up to a week at a time. When it’s time to take the medication, you simply push the pill through the blister packing. That way, you can see which doses you’ve taken.

    • Dosette
      Pill container with compartments called a dosette

A dosette is a container where you can store and organize your medications into compartments for different times of the day (e.g., morning, noon, afternoon, or bedtime) usually for up to a week at a time. That way, you can see whether you’ve taken your last dose of medication. You can fill it yourself or have it filled by a pharmacist — which is a good idea if you take many medications at different times of the day. Dosettes may also come with alarms that beep when it’s time for your next dose.

    • Non-childproof lids
      Medication container with non child proof lid

Most medications are put in childproof containers. Childproof lids can be very difficult to open. If you’re having trouble, ask your pharmacist for non-childproof lids. Remember to always keep medications away from children.

Download and print Tips for managing your medications

Don't Let Missing Information Impact Your Care

Woman calling healthcare provider on her mobile phone

You may not want to mention things such as smoking, alcohol consumption, cannabis use, or if you have mixed prescription and non-prescription medications. Maybe you felt embarrassed to tell your provider these details or maybe you forgot to mention them. Whatever the reason, the cost of leaving out information about your health could be high. Missing information could be vital to getting better. Your healthcare team needs to know all they can about what may be affecting you. You and you alone are the best source for this information.

  • Be straightforward from the start — your healthcare team is not there to judge.
  • Call back if you neglected to mention something important.
Stay Healthier, Live Longer

Group of seniors in fitness class outdoorsNot all prescriptions are for medicine. You may be asked by your healthcare team to change your lifestyle and to start to eat differently, lose weight, get more exercise, or stop smoking.

Questions to Ask About Lifestyle Changes

Here are some questions to ask your healthcare team about lifestyle changes:

  • How could lifestyle changes affect my chronic illness?
  • How will this change improve my health?
  • What might happen if I don’t make this change?
  • Can diet changes help reduce my symptoms?
  • What foods shouldn’t I eat?
  • What foods should I eat?
  • How much weight do I need to lose? How long should that weight loss take?
  • What type of activity would be best for me and how long should I do it?
  • Are there medications that could help me stop smoking?
  • Could you suggest any support groups to help me quit smoking, alcohol consumption, or drug use?
  • Do you have other information that could help me?
  • Can you refer me to a healthcare provider such as a nurse, dietician, or exercise specialist that can support me with my goals?

Tips for Making Lifestyle Changes

Below are a few tips for making lifestyle changes to support your health. Please note these are general tips. Before making any lifestyle changes, talk to your healthcare team.

  • Set realistic goals and start small
    To succeed, your goals must be realistic. If you need to eat more vegetables, consider having vegetables for your mid-morning and afternoon snack. It’s better to start slowly and work your way up. Remember one small success leads to another.
  • Think positively and be confident that you can change
    Focus on the positive difference the change will make to you and believe in yourself. Instead of thinking about how much weight you want to lose, think about how good you will feel when it’s gone. And remember, every step counts.
  • Make a plan
    You know you want to be more active, but what does that mean to you? Create a plan for yourself. If you haven’t been active for awhile, you could try walking for 10 minutes a day. If you want to increase what you’re already doing, try to add 20 minutes more a week.
  • Track your progress
    The best way to know how you are doing is to keep track. Measure how far you have walked each day, write down what you eat every day, and know how much alcohol you consumed this month.
  • Be adaptable when things don’t go as planned
    Make sure you’re open to changing your plans. If you’re unable to go to the gym to today, get off the bus two stopes earlier instead. Remember there are many ways to stay active.
  • Reward yourself when you reach milestones
    Celebrate your milestones along the way with small, healthy rewards.
  • Get a little help from your friends
    Most things are better with friends. Interacting with others can help you stay motivated.
  • Expect to slip up (changes takes time and effort)
    Change takes time and effort. Avoid dwelling on mistakes. Learn from what happened and take another step in the direction you want to go.
  • Get enough sleep
    Sleep in important. Without enough sleep, we may make poor decisions that interfere with our plans for change.
  • Get regular check-ups with your doctor
    Regular check-ups can help your healthcare team work with you to prevent health problems, see the early signs of a health issue, or manage a chronic illness.

Other Resources

Definitions
  • Active role/participant: Individuals can take an active role in their healthcare by partnering with their healthcare team. This could mean planning ahead for healthcare visits, voicing your questions, concerns, and preferences, discussing and understanding your options, making informed decisions, participating in shared decision-making, and more. Evidence shows care is safer and results in better outcomes if patients are active participants in their healthcare team.
  • Chronic illness, condition, or disease: Chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • Health plan: A care management plan that patients and their healthcare providers mutually agree on. (World Health Organization)
  • Healthcare provider: Professionals who work in the health field and can include doctors, nurses (RNs, LPNs), dentists, psychologists, physiotherapists, pharmacists, and dieticians, etc. (Alberta Health Services)
  • Healthcare team: Patients, their caregivers, and healthcare providers that come together to plan and coordinate a person’s care. (World Health Organization)
  • Person-centred care: Person-centred care is a concept that describes healthcare that respects an individual’s beliefs, preferences, and values, and responds to the totality of their needs (including their families and caregivers). A person-centred care approach supports an individual with acquiring the information and skills needed to make decisions about care, through healthcare providers working in partnership with the person.
COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted the way you interact with your healthcare team. For example, some visits may have been virtual or you may not have been able to bring along a family member. Please check with your healthcare team on specific guidelines and restrictions as they are continually changing.

Don’t delay your healthcare.

Regardless of the current pandemic situation, your health remains a priority and your healthcare team will have solutions to ensure you can still receive safe, quality care.

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