8 Tips for Choosing an Oncologist

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    A Personal Decision
    Hearing that you have cancer can turn your world upside down. However, taking an active role in your healthcare may help you feel more in control and give you hope. One of the first and most important steps in your fight against cancer is choosing an oncologist. How do you find the best oncologist who is right for you? Here are some important factors to keep in mind.

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    1. Get Referrals
    Start with a referral list from your primary care doctor. You can also ask family, friends, and other healthcare providers for recommendations. Take the time to research the doctors’ credentials and experience on Healthgrades.com. As you narrow down your list, call each oncologist’s office and ask for a consult appointment to meet and interview the doctor.

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    2. Research the Oncologist’s Credentials
    Board certification is one of the most important factors you should consider when choosing an oncologist. It tells you that the doctor has the necessary training, skills and experience to provide healthcare in oncology. Also confirm that the oncologist has no history of malpractice claims or disciplinary actions. You can find the oncologist’s medical school, training hospital, certifications, and malpractice and disciplinary history on Healthgrades.com and state websites.

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    3. Consider the Oncologist’s Experience
    When it comes to cancer, experience matters. The more experience a doctor has with a certain cancer treatment, the better your results will likely be. Ask how many patients with your specific cancer the oncologist has treated. If you know you need a specific procedure, ask how many of the procedures the doctor has performed and find out about complication rates—complications the doctor has encountered as well as your own risk of complications.

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    4. Consider Gender
    It’s important to feel comfortable with your oncologist’s gender because you will need to openly discuss personal information. But your own gender is also an important consideration. Oncologists are becoming more specialized in caring for women and men differently. And some hospitals have treatment centers that focus on gender-specific cancer care. Ask the oncologist about his or her recent training and experience specifically related to your cancer and your gender.

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    5. Research Hospital Quality
    Your doctor’s hospital is your hospital. For this reason, consider the quality of care at the hospital where the oncologist treats patients. Hospital quality matters to you because patients at top-rated hospitals have fewer complications and better survival rates. Additionally, consider whether the hospital’s location is important to you. Frequent tests or treatment appointments may mean you need a convenient location. You want the location to encourage, rather than discourage timely care.

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    6. Evaluate Communication Style
    Choose an oncologist with whom you are comfortable talking and who supports your information needs. When you first meet the oncologist, ask a question and notice how he or she responds. Does he or she welcome your questions and answer them in ways that you can understand? Clarity and candor are vital communication tools for both the oncologist and the cancer patient. Find an oncologist who shows an interest in getting to know you, who will consider your treatment preferences, and who will respect your decision-making process.

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    7. Read Patient Reviews
    Reading what other people have to say about a doctor can provide insight into how a doctor practices medicine, as well as how his or her medical practice is operated. Patient reviews typically ask people about their experience with scheduling appointments, wait times, office environment, and office staff friendliness. You can learn how well patients trust the doctor, how much time he or she spends with their patients, and how well he or she answers questions.

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    8. Know What Your Insurance Covers
    Your insurance coverage is a practical matter. To receive the most insurance benefits and pay the least out-of-pocket for your care, you may need to choose an oncologist who participates in your plan. You should still consider credentials, experience, outcomes, and hospital quality as you select an oncologist from your plan.

8 Tips for Choosing an Oncologist

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
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