How To Find a Doctor or Treatment Facility

How To Find a Doctor or Treatment Facility If You Have Cancer

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, finding a doctor and treatment facility for your cancer care is an important step to getting the best treatment possible. Although the health care system is complex, resources are available to guide you in finding a doctor, getting a second opinion, and choosing a treatment facility. Below are suggestions and information resources to help you with these important decisions.

Physician Training and Credentials

When choosing a doctor for your cancer care, you may find it helpful to know some of the terms used to describe a doctor’s training and credentials.

Most physicians who treat people with cancer are medical doctors (they have an M.D. degree). The basic training for a physician includes 4 years of premedical education at a college or university, 4 years of medical school to earn an M.D. degree, and a residency consisting of 3 to 7 years of postgraduate education and training. Physicians must pass an exam to become licensed (legally permitted) to practice medicine in their state. Each state or territory has its own procedures and general standards for licensing physicians.

Specialists are physicians who have completed their residency training in a specific area, such as internal medicine. Independent specialty boards certify physicians after they have fulfilled certain requirements. These requirements include meeting specific education and training criteria, being licensed to practice medicine, and passing an examination given by the specialty board. Doctors who have met all of the requirements are given the status of “Diplomate” and are board-certified as specialists. Doctors who are board-eligible have obtained the required education and training, but have not completed the specialty board examination.

After being trained and certified as a specialist, a physician may choose to become a subspecialist. A subspecialist has at least 1 additional year of full-time education in a particular area of a specialty. This training is designed to increase the physician’s expertise in a specific field. Specialists can be board-certified in their subspecialty as well.

The following are some specialties and subspecialties that pertain to cancer treatment:
Medical Oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Doctors who specialize in internal medicine treat a wide range of medical problems. Medical oncologists treat cancer and manage the patient’s course of treatment. A medical oncologist may also consult with other physicians about the patient’s care or refer the patient to other specialists.

Hematology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Hematologists focus on diseases of the blood and related tissues, including the bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes.
Radiation Oncology is a subspecialty of radiology. Radiology is the use of x-rays and other forms of radiation to diagnose and treat disease. Radiation oncologists specialize in the use of radiation to treat cancer.

Surgery is a specialty that pertains to the treatment of disease by surgical operation. General surgeons perform operations on almost any area of the body. Physicians can also choose to specialize in a certain type of surgery; for example, thoracic surgeons are specialists who perform operations specifically in the chest area, including the lungs and the esophagus.

Finding a Doctor

One way to find a doctor who specializes in cancer care is to ask for a referral from your primary care physician. You may know a specialist yourself, or through the experience of a family member, coworker, or friend.

The following resources may also be able to provide you with names of doctors who specialize in treating specific diseases or conditions. However, these resources may not have information about the quality of care that the doctors provide.

-Your local hospital or its patient referral service may be able to provide you with a list of specialists who practice at that hospital.
-Your nearest National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center can provide information about doctors who practice at that center. on the Internet.
-Local medical societies may maintain lists of doctors in each specialty.
-Public and medical libraries may have print directories of doctors’ names listed geographically by specialty.
-Your local Yellow Pages or Yellow Book may have doctors listed by specialty under “Physicians.”

If you are a member of a health insurance plan, your choice may be limited to doctors who participate in your plan. Your insurance company can provide you with a list of participating primary care doctors and specialists. It is important to ask your insurance company if the doctor you choose is accepting new patients through your health plan. You also have the option of seeing a doctor outside your health plan and paying the costs yourself. If you have a choice of health insurance plans, you may first wish to consider which doctor or doctors you would like to use, then choose a plan that includes your chosen physician(s).

You will have many factors to consider when choosing a doctor. To make an informed decision, you may wish to speak with several doctors before choosing one. When you meet with each doctor, you might want to consider the following:
-Does the doctor have the education and training to meet my needs?
-Does the doctor use the hospital that I have chosen?
-Does the doctor listen to me and treat me with respect?
-Does the doctor explain things clearly and encourage me to ask questions?
-What are the doctor’s office hours?
-Who covers for the doctor when he or she is unavailable? Will that person have access to my medical records?
-How long does it take to get an appointment with the doctor?

If you are choosing a surgeon, you may wish to ask additional questions about the surgeon’s background and experience with specific procedures. These questions may include:
-Is the surgeon board-certified?
-Has the surgeon been evaluated by a national professional association of surgeons?
-At which treatment facility or facilities does the surgeon practice?
-How often does the surgeon perform the type of surgery I need?
-How many of these procedures has the surgeon performed? What was the success rate?

It is important for you to feel comfortable with the specialist that you choose because you will be working closely with that person to make decisions about your cancer treatment. Trust your own observations and feelings when deciding on a doctor for your medical care.

Other health professionals and support services may also be important during cancer treatment. Your Health Care Team:
-Your Doctor Is Only the Beginning
-First Things First: Your Own Role
-Social workers
-A psychiatrist
-A psychologist
-Another form of home care is from a home health aide.
-Rehabilitation services
-Dietary or nutritional counseling or services
-Prayer and spiritual counseling
-Hospice care
-Your team of health care professionals

Getting a Second Opinion

Once you receive your doctor’s opinion about the diagnosis and treatment plan, you may want to get another doctor’s advice before you begin treatment. This is known as getting a second opinion. You can do this by asking another specialist to review all of the materials related to your case. A second opinion can confirm or suggest modifications to your doctor’s proposed treatment plan, provide reassurance that you have explored all of your options, and answer any questions you may have.

Getting a second opinion is done frequently, and most physicians welcome another doctor’s views. In fact, your doctor may be able to recommend a specialist for this consultation. However, some people find it uncomfortable to request a second opinion. When discussing this issue with your doctor, it may be helpful to express satisfaction with your doctor’s decision and care, and mention that you want your decision about treatment to be as thoroughly informed as possible.

You may also wish to bring a family member along for support when asking for a second opinion. It is best to involve your doctor in the process of getting a second opinion, because your doctor will need to make your medical records (such as your test results and x-rays) available to the specialist. Some health care plans require a second opinion, particularly if a doctor recommends surgery. Other health care plans will pay for a second opinion if the patient requests it. If your plan does not cover a second opinion, you can still obtain one if you are willing to cover the cost.

Finding a Treatment Facility

Choosing a treatment facility is another important consideration for getting the best medical care possible. Although you may not be able to choose which hospital treats you in an emergency, you can choose a facility for scheduled and ongoing care. If you have already found a doctor for your cancer treatment, you may need to choose a facility based on where your doctor practices. Your doctor may be able to recommend a facility that provides quality care to meet your needs.

You may wish to ask the following questions when considering a treatment facility:
-Has the facility had experience and success in treating my condition?
-Has the facility been rated by state, consumer, or other groups for its quality of care?
-How does the facility check on and work to improve its quality of care?
-Has the facility been approved by a nationally recognized accrediting body.
-Does the facility explain patients’ rights and responsibilities? Are copies of this information available to patients?
-Does the treatment facility offer support services, such as social workers and resources, to help me find financial assistance if I need it?
-Is the facility conveniently located?

If you are a member of a health insurance plan, your choice of treatment facilities may be limited to those that participate in your plan. Your insurance company can provide you with a list of approved facilities. Although the costs of cancer treatment can be very high, you have the option of paying out-of-pocket if you want to use a treatment facility that is not covered by your insurance plan. If you are considering paying for treatment yourself, you may wish to discuss the possible costs with your doctor beforehand. You may also want to speak with the person who does the billing for the treatment facility. In some instances, nurses and social workers can provide you with more information about coverage, eligibility, and insurance issues.