Selecting Your Physician
Last updated: May 2023
Selecting a surgeon or treating physician for a serious illness such as cancer can be a tough decision. Some decisions are made after careful research, while other decisions may be based on accepting one recommendation. Everyone has different needs, comfort levels and different resources so, of course, how one pursues their medical team is just as individual.
When my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and subsequently when my daughter and I were both diagnosed with breast cancer, searching for the right oncologists and surgeons became almost a full-time job for each of us. I thought I’d share some of the things we looked at while we went through this process.
Many insurance companies will now cover the costs of seeing more than one physician when deciding on your care team, though check with your insurance. Some may cover even three. We came to our consultations well-prepared. Through lots of research about the disease, treatment, side effects, and more, we knew exactly what we wanted to discuss.
We also came to these meetings knowing a lot about the doctor and their practice. Knowledge is power is certainly true. Doctors we met appreciated our research and related questions. If we met a doctor who wasn’t interested in hearing us out, who felt insulted by our questioning, or who didn’t want to take the time, that would have ended that relationship before it even started. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
What are the doctors’ primary areas of practice? Do they have specialties in our types of cancers? Where did they go to medical school; where was their residency? How long have they practiced? Are they associated with a major hospital which offers first-rate surgery centers, top facilities for treatments of chemo or radiation?
Is the hospital a teaching facility where residents and interns will be part of my care team? Is there a strong patient support system support, including patient navigators? A lot of this information is easily available online but is also a good basis for discussion during your consultation.
Personality and rapport
Do I feel comfortable with this doctor? Do we seem to relate easily and comfortably? It may not be easy to determine this 100% during the first consultation, but it can often be recognized right off the bat if a comfortable relationship won’t be possible. Again, for us, that would have been the end of the relationship.
The doctor’s office team
Is the doctor’s office responsive to my calls? Friendly? Is it easy to schedule a timely appointment? Do they seem efficient? Do my phone calls get returned? Will my medical records and appointments be available to me through my patient portal?
In many cases, physician web sites include patient comments. When considering these comments and recommendations, it’s important to be discerning about what may and may not be valid. But reviewing others’ experiences with a particular doctor can add another focus for the initial consultation.
How far will I need to travel for hospital procedures, check ups, treatments? Location can be especially important if treatment will include daily radiation or frequent chemo over an extended period of time. If you live in the Midwest as I do, traveling longer distances for repeated treatment during winter weather is another consideration.
These are only a few of the many things to think about when deciding on your treating physician and/or surgeon. But like any major decision, it takes time, research, some work and careful thought to be confident that you made the best choice. But it’s worth all the effort – a lot depends on it.
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