At some point, there is a good chance that you may need to search for a new oncologist (a doctor who specializes in cancer). This may be because you are moving to a new location or changing health insurance plans, or because your doctor is moving or retiring.
Coping with finding a new oncologist
Many people with cancer develop a strong, long-term relationship with their doctors. You may feel that your oncologist understands both you and your health history. You likely trust and count on the support you receive from your doctor and the office staff; the idea of losing this support may be upsetting. You may be anxious about having to review all the details of your cancer diagnosis and treatment with a new doctor or be concerned about becoming familiar with a new office staff. You may worry that you will not be able to find a new oncologist that you like and trust as much as the one you have now.
While it can take time to establish a new relationship with a doctor, there are steps you can take to find a new oncologist who you trust and with whom you feel comfortable.
Locating a new oncologist
The first step is coming up with a list of potential doctors. When asking for recommendations, be sure to ask for those who have experience treating your specific type of cancer.
- Ask your current oncologist and primary care physician to recommend doctors in your area or in the area to which you will be moving.
- Call your health insurance plan's member services line and ask for a list of oncologists, or search the insurance plan's website, if available.
- Call the local hospitals and ask for referrals. Most hospitals have a physician referral service. Also, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) keeps a list of NCI-designated cancer centers that specialize in cancer research and patient programs. Your nearest cancer center can provide information on oncologists who practice at that center.
- Ask for recommendations from friends or acquaintances who have had cancer. If you belong to a cancer support group, other members may be able to give you recommendations.
- Search online physician directories. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) provides a free, searchable database of oncologists on Cancer.Net. Other medical associations, such as the American Board of Medical Specialties, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Surgeons also offer searchable databases of doctors.
Narrowing down your list
Once you have a list of potential oncologists, you may want to consider the following when narrowing down your choices.
- What are the doctor's credentials? Is he or she board certified?
- What is the doctor's education, training, years in practice, and experience with your type of cancer?
- How many patients with your type of cancer does the doctor see each year?
- Does the doctor participate in your insurance plan? Is the doctor accepting new patients?
- How convenient are the office hours and location?
- Is there supportive staff in the office?
- How easy is it to get an appointment or speak to the doctor?
- Who handles emergencies when the doctor is unavailable?
Find additional questions to consider when choosing a doctor.
You may be able to get some of this information from the source of your referral, or you may want to contact the doctor's office directly. You may also want to call a few oncologists to schedule a consultation to meet the doctor and the office staff. If you currently live too far away to meet in person, you may be able to talk with the doctor on the telephone. Keep in mind that you may be charged for the doctor's time and that the charge may not be covered by your health insurance.
In addition to getting answers to practical questions, you will get a sense of the doctor's communication and practice styles. Take note of how comfortable you feel with each oncologist, including whether the doctor talks to you in a way you could understand and whether he or she encourages and answers your questions.
All the information you gather will help you decide which doctor is right for you. Trust your instincts and remember that it may take time for you and your new oncologist to develop a comfortable relationship. Also remember that, if after some time you are not happy with your choice, you have the tools to switch to a different doctor.
Information your new oncologist will need
Once you have chosen a new oncologist, you will need to arrange to have your medical records transferred from your current doctor's office. Ask the office staff what procedures you need to follow. Usually, you will be required to give written permission, allowing the office to copy and transfer your records. You may also want to ask for a copy of your records for your own reference; different formats, such as a CD or flash drive, may be available. Some offices may charge you a fee to copy your records for personal use.
Last Updated: February 23, 2011