Communicating with Healthcare Professionals? Here’s How to Stand Your Ground and Get What You Need

[title text=”by Dr. Arlene Houldin”]

Patients and caregivers who actively and knowledgeably participate in their care management have better health outcomes.

In today’s health care system, with the overload of information, increased administrative burden on physicians and limited time with patients- you, as the caregiver must be an active participant in your loved one’s care.  Being assertive is an important communication skill to master to ensure that your loved one receives safe, quality care:

  • Helping to make your loved one’s symptoms, concerns and care goals known, clearly, concisely and respectfully, to the medical providers is very important to assist patients to receive an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan.
  • Assertiveness is defined as a form of communication in which needs or wishes are stated clearly with respect for oneself and the other person in the interaction. Assertive communication is distinguished from passive communication (in which needs or wishes go unstated) and aggressive communication (in which needs or wishes are stated in a hostile or demanding manner).
  • When you act assertively you act fairly and with empathy. The power you use comes from your self-assurance and the valuing of yourself, your loved ones and your rights.

[title text=”Assertive Communication Techniques”]

There are a variety of ways to communicate assertively. By understanding how to be assertive, you can adapt these techniques to any situation you are facing.

5 Simple and Effective Communication Techniques | The Caregiver Space Blog

“I” statements

Use “I want.” “I need.” or “I feel.” to convey basic assertions.

“I need to have my questions answered before I can help my mother make a decision about her treatment choices.”

Empathic Assertion

First, recognize how the other person views the situation:

“I understand that you are having trouble meeting my request for more medical information about my husband.”

Then, express what you need:

“...however, this issue is causing me unnecessary distress and needs to be resolved. Let’s discuss some options. Perhaps my wife’s appointment can be extended, or we can schedule a follow-up appointment so we can have more time to discuss my questions.”

Escalating Assertion

This type of assertiveness is necessary when your first attempts are not successful in getting your needs met.

The technique involves becoming more and more firm as time goes on. It may end in you telling the person what you will do next if you do not receive satisfaction.

“Mary, this is the third time this week I’ve had to call to get my son’s lab results because there was no follow through on my voicemail messages. If the communication problem continues this week, I will bring the issue to Dr. Smith’s attention.”

Broken Record

Prepare ahead of time the message you want to convey:

“I must have my son’s lab results within 24 hours of the blood draw in order to safely plan his daily activities.”

During the conversation, keep restating your message using the same language over and over again. Don’t relent. Eventually the person is likely to realize that you really mean what you are saying.

I have many other patients and can’t get back to you that quickly.
“I must have my son’s lab results within 24 hours of the blood draw in order to safely plan his daily activities.”

That is impossible to promise every week.
“I must have my son’s lab results within 24 hours of the blood draw.”

Well, I will have to speak with the doctor about your request.
“I appreciate you bringing this request to her attention since I must have my son’s lab results within 24 hours of the blood draw.”

Ask For More Time

Sometimes, you just need to put off saying anything. You might be too emotional or you might really not know what you want. Be honest and tell the doctor that you need time to process the information.

“Dr. Jones, your recommendation that my daughter have more surgery has caught me off guard. I’ll get back to you next week after I have had time to think more about it.”


This technique involves preparing and rehearsing your responses using a four-pronged approach that describes:

  1. The event: tell the other person exactly how you see the situation or problem.
    Mary, I need the results of my son’s lab work to know his vulnerability to infection and plan his daily activities safely. When I receive the lab results one week later after promises that the results will be sent earlier, I am completely baffled by the lack of follow up.”
  2. Your feelings: tell the other person how you feel about the situation and express your emotions clearly.
    “This frustrates me and makes me feel like you don’t understand or appreciate how important this information is to me as a parent.”
  3. Your needs: tell the other person what you need so they don’t have to guess.
    I want you to hear me and help me to get my son’s lab results in a more efficient manner.”
  4. The consequences: describe the positive outcome if your needs are fulfilled.
    If we can discuss solutions that can work for both of us, then together we can turn this problem around and save time and effort.”

Once you are clear about what you want to say and express, it is much easier to actually do it.
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Dr. Arlene Houldin | Communicating with Healthcare Professionals? Here's How to Stand Your Ground and Get What You Need


Dr. Arlene Houldin has 40 years of professional experience working in the field of nursing. She is now the Executive Director of HEAL (Holistic Enrichment of Adult Living), a compassion based and values-driven non-profit home care agency. HEAL provides an exceptional blend of health advocacy and companion care services to seniors and adults with acute and chronic medical conditions. HEAL is based in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and serves the Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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  1. Ironically, I’ve found that my son’s accident and injuries have given me MORE of a voice with medical personnel – from the professionals who treated him as a ‘condition’ while he was in a coma, to the dr whose diagnosis was that he’d never be more than a step above a vegetative state, early on (he couldn’t answer the dr’s questions because his jaw was wired shut!!!). From paring down a list of the medications he was given in a nursing home (there were about a dozen meds… which included an anti-diarreahal, and a stool softener… his poor bowels had no idea what to do!!), to changing prosthetists who couldn’t seem to fashion a leg that would work for him. It’s helped me with my doctors and their staffs, too – I start out calmly and try to work with them, but as things progress, and I feel like I’m not being heard, it will escalate until things are dealt with.

  2. As often happens, the Carer becomes the Cared for – I’m in that position now, altho my husband is not far behind at the moment – hopefully things will be alot better after he has a hip operation which is on the agenda. He is gradually getting more involved with Care issues to do with our daughter and me. At the moment, I feel like I’m losing some of my independence – and yet – I’m very relieved that I don’t have to deal with matters and agencies on my own. One thing I have learned from my experiences is that I must be able to communicate clearly and that I must keep my nerve and my resolve – and especially where my children are concerned.


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