When choosing a doctor, such as a surgeon, radiation oncologist or a medical oncologist, no one source gives a perfect measure of quality. However, combining information from the sources listed below can help you make an informed decision.
Many large hospitals and health insurance plans have directories to help you choose a doctor. These directories are a good starting point because they often list doctors by medical specialty and gender. They may also have personal biographies, which list education, training, certification and personal interests.
Your human resources department may have a list of doctors for your company’s health plan. Directories can also be found on many hospital and health plan websites. The Medicare website also has a directory to help you find doctors that accept Medicare patients in your area.
One of the best ways to find a good doctor is a referral from a trusted source. People often get the names of doctors from their primary care provider, family members, friends or other breast cancer survivors.
Making sure a doctor is board certified is an important step in finding a good provider. To be board certified, a doctor must have the training and knowledge to practice a medical specialty and have passed a certification exam.
The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) oversees the certification of specialists. The ABMS online directory allows you to check that a doctor is board certified. Many doctors post their ABMS certificates in their offices.
The American Medical Association maintains DoctorFinder, a database of U.S. doctors. DoctorFinder lists a doctor's certification status and includes where the doctor went to medical school and did his or her training.
Malpractice records can be a sign of the quality of care a doctor provides. If a doctor (or his or her malpractice insurance company) has made malpractice payouts, he or she may not offer the best quality care possible. However, this is not always true. Doctors may be sued for malpractice when, in fact, they did nothing wrong. So, in some cases, malpractice suits may not reflect the true skill of the doctor.
State medical boards often have malpractice records available to the public. Many states (such as California, Florida and New York) have this information online, either through their state sites or through directories like DocFinder. Malpractice records are not always available. However, these sites are a good starting point for a search.
Interviewing a doctor about his or her approach to treating breast cancer is a good way to learn about his or her abilities and to see whether or not you have a personal connection (more below). This may be done as part of a formal consultation. Here are some things to consider while interviewing a doctor.
A doctor who sees only people with breast cancer is likely to have more experience treating breast cancer than one who treats many types of cancer. However, outside of large medical centers, it can be hard to find doctors (such as surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists) who treat only people with breast cancer. If you choose a doctor who does not specialize in breast cancer, he or she should still treat many people with breast cancer each year. Many of these doctors give excellent care to people with breast cancer.
Here are some questions that may help you interview a doctor:
Find more questions to ask a potential doctor.
You should ask whether a doctor takes part in clinical trials. A doctor who does is likely to know about new therapies and may be more open to future medical treatments.
However, the ability to take part in clinical trials can depend on the type of hospital where a doctor practices. Many community hospitals do not conduct clinical trials, but this does not mean doctors on their staff are not up-to-date on the latest treatments.
Finally, an interview lets you assess a doctor's personality and communication skills. This is a chance to see whether you feel you can connect with the doctor.
For many people, a doctor must be someone they feel comfortable with on a personal level. Doctors should be open to you questioning their recommendations, asking for more explanation when needed and getting a second opinion.
Many local and national magazines publish the "best" hospitals and doctors. While these listings can be useful, excellent care is also provided by many doctors and hospitals not listed in these reports.
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