Tips for Choosing Your Doctor for Your Cancer Care

Illustration of mesothelioma research

A recent cancer diagnosis can result in feelings of fear and confusion. Often, patients and families feel a sense of information overload when they are first diagnosed. It’s difficult to know how to begin the most effective treatment and who to rely on for cancer care. An important place to start is by choosing a trusted physician who is an expert not just in cancer, but in the particular cancer with which you have been diagnosed. In addition, the doctor should have a reputation for taking time with patients and a quality bedside manner. Your doctor should be able to balance the latest scientific expertise, communication skills, and the ability to make you feel as comfortable as possible.

Remember, while you may be anxious to start treatment for your cancer, it’s important to take some time to find the best doctor for you. Here are some tips to consider when searching for an oncologist.

Doctor Referrals

One of the smartest ways to go about choosing your cancer doctor, also known as an oncologist, is to get referrals, and many sources are available to help. First, you need to find out the type of oncologist you need for your particular cancer. You can ask the physician who first diagnosed your cancer what type of doctor you need and whom they would recommend. For a rare disease like mesothelioma, it’s especially important to work with a doctor who has specialized in mesothelioma treatment. You also can check with your primary care doctor and ask friends and family for recommendations. You can also call your local hospital to ask for suggestions.

Medical Credentials and Ratings

You can check for doctors online through a database provided by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which allows you to search by location, specialty, and board certification for a doctor that specializes in your diagnosis. The American Medical Association provides an online Doctor Finder that you can use to learn detailed information about a physician, including his or her specialty, training, and certifications. You can search state licensing websites to make sure there are no malpractice or disciplinary issues reflected in his or her record. If you’re interested in learning about how previous patients rate a doctor’s care, you can check out websites like Healthgrades, RateMDs, or Vitals for ratings and reviews.

There are several types of information you need to know about your doctor as you choose the best fit for your needs. Credentials you should look for are board certification, which indicates the physician has passed an exam in a specific medical field and possible additional certifications that might aid in your treatment. Ask how long the doctor has been working in his or her field and where. Find out roughly how many patients a year the doctor treats. You’ll also want to know about who the doctor works with as part of the treatment team, including other physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other support staff, such as dietitians, social workers, and physical therapists. In addition, you may want to ask the doctor about access to clinical trials, as this generally indicates a high level of expertise in his or her field.

You want to be able to reach your doctor or a member of the medical team as needed and have access to convenient office hours. Ask who you can talk to after hours if you have an issue that needs immediate attention. You will also want to know who the doctor shares call with after hours or when on vacation so you can trust the level of care you will receive whether it’s needed day or night.

Research the Hospital

It’s important to research the hospital that your potential doctor utilizes. You can check the Commission on Cancer Hospital Locator to search for the top cancer centers in the United States. You may also want to check into cancer centers that are designated by the National Cancer Institute. You’ll also want to know the hospital or cancer center’s experience and success in dealing with your particular cancer, whether or not it utilizes clinical trials, and available support services. The location of the cancer center in relation to where you live is also important. You may also want to check into any service it offers that allows you or family members to stay locally if it is located away from your hometown. For mesothelioma patients, many may have to travel to be treated by a mesothelioma specialist. It’s important to consider your travel costs and additional services when choosing your mesothelioma cancer center and doctor you want to be treated by.

Consider Your Health Insurance

One of the most important issues when choosing a cancer doctor is health insurance. Check with your health insurance carrier to make sure your doctor’s services are covered under your plan. You also want to make sure that all possible procedures and hospitals or cancer centers are covered. Find out how much the doctor charges for office visits.

A Personal Decision

Finally, when choosing a doctor for cancer care, you want to assess your reaction to the doctor on a gut level. Does the doctor seem like he or she has time to spend with you and answer your questions? Are things explained to you so that you understand all of your options and what to expect regarding your care? Are there any language barriers that might make it harder for you to get the information you need? Are you more comfortable with one gender over another? Does your doctor have the bedside manner you desire, whether it be more business-like or one that understands your individual emotional needs at a difficult time? Your relationship with your cancer doctor may be long-term; if you are uncomfortable with your initial interactions, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion or search out another physician.