Choosing a Doctor
When choosing a doctor, such as a medical oncologist, surgeon or radiation oncologist, no one source gives a perfect measure of quality. However, combining information from some of 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 that list education, training, certification and personal interests.
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.
If you have insurance through your employer, your human resources department may have a list of doctors for your company’s health insurance plan.
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 people diagnosed with breast cancer.
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 must 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 the doctor’s malpractice insurance company) has made malpractice payouts, this could be a sign they may not offer high-quality care.
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.
Finding online malpractice records
Some state medical boards 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 doctors about their approach to treating breast cancer is a good way to learn about their abilities and to see whether or not you have a personal connection. This may be done as part of a formal consultation.
Below are some things to consider when meeting with a new doctor.
Breast cancer experience
A doctor who sees only people with breast cancer likely has 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 medical oncologists, surgeons and radiation oncologists) who only treat people with breast cancer.
If the doctor doesn’t specialize in breast cancer, they should still treat a lot of people with breast cancer each year. Many of these doctors give excellent care to people with breast cancer.
Questions for your potential doctor
Here are some questions that may help you interview a doctor:
- How long have you been practicing?
- Do you only see people diagnosed with breast cancer?
- How many people with breast cancer do you see (or operate on) in a year?
- What breast cancer treatment guidelines do you follow?
Learn more about treatment guidelines.
Clinical trial access
Ask whether the doctor takes part in clinical trials. A doctor who does is likely to know about new therapies and may be more open to them.
However, being able 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 doesn’t mean doctors on their staff are not up-to-date on the latest treatments.
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:
- Asking questions about their recommendations
- Asking for more explanation
- Getting a second opinion
Many local and national magazines publish the “best” hospitals and doctors. While these listings can be useful, excellent care is provided by many doctors and hospitals not listed in these reports.