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How To Choose An Oncologist

Step 3: Search For Doctors That Most Closely Fit Your Criteria

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Start by looking at the list of doctors who contract with your health plan. If you don't find what you need in the most recent lists you've been sent, check your insurer's web site to see if there have been additional doctors added. Unless you have the money to go outside of your insurer's list ("out of network"), you may have to compromise your criteria.

To find additional doctors, ask your other doctors, friends and particularly people who have the same health condition. When you talk with other people with the same condition, a few names are likely to rise to the top of the list. If so, those are the doctors to interview. There are also web sites that help you locate doctors. Even if you don't use the sites to locate doctors, they generally provide information about doctors, including disciplinary information.

If you live in a very small community or a larger one without a good choice of cancer specialists from whom to choose, or a hospital of high standards and good support services, consider seeking diagnosis and treatment from an oncologist in a large regional hospital or in a nearby city. While the distance can make treatment more difficult, your life is at stake.
  • If you see more than one oncologist, such as a medical oncologist who is your primary oncologist, and a radiation oncologist for radiation treatments, they do not have to be part of the same practice or even associated with each other. While most doctors prefer to work with other doctors with whom they are closely associated, the key is to find the best doctor for you in each speciality - including your comfort factor. For example, Mary W. decided not to be treated by a radiologist partner of her medical oncologist because she did not think he took her personal needs sufficiently into account. Instead, she located a radiologist who let her play her own music and agreed to keep people from the control room where they could see her on a monitor. 
  • If you decide to go to a doctor who is not in your insurer's network, consider negotiating a discount. Studies show that 60% of patients who negotiate get charged less. You can learn reasonable prices for medical services at your insurer's web site or by calling the company. Steeper discounts are usually given for paying cash.

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