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Choosing a Health Care Team

Choose a health care team that has had success treating the type of cancer you have. A good team will work with you and help you get the best treatment for your type and stage of cancer.

A senior woman and man speaking with a male doctor

Find Your Health Care Providers

Choosing health care providers is often based on the type and stage of cancer. When cancer is diagnosed, your primary care physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant may refer you to an oncologist he or she trusts for cancer treatment. Friends and loved ones might also suggest providers they have worked with. If your provider does not suggest a referral to an oncologist, ask for one. It is considered to be the best practice to have an oncologist lead your cancer team.

Many nonprofit organizations offer information about cancer specialists and medical facilities and can help you find medical providers and services for your type of cancer.

How to Search For Health Care Providers

  • Make a list of the providers you want to interview.
  • Call each provider’s office to discuss your diagnosis with a nurse.
  • Make an appointment to meet with the health care provider you like as soon as you can.
  • Get approval for coverage from your insurer before the first meeting.
  • Ask the insurer if other medical opinions will also be covered.
  • Send your health history, list of medications, test results and other medical records to the provider before the first meeting.
  • Take X-rays, MRI and CT films to your appointment to avoid repeating tests.

Questions to Ask Potential Health Care Providers

  • Can you tell me about your experience successfully treating my type and stage of cancer?
  • Which health care facilities do you use for treatment?
  • What treatments do you recommend for my situation and why?
  • What risks are involved with this type of treatment?

Insurance Coverage

Some health plans allow you to go where you want for treatment. Others only cover expenses for medical providers who are members of their plan. Find out if the health care providers and treatment facility you choose are covered by your plan.

If a provider is not a member of your plan, you may have to pay some or all of the costs. Find out in advance what your portion of the costs are expected to be.

Some plans require advance approval by the insurer before they will pay for services. Make certain that your provider’s office has this pre-approval before you start tests, treatments or hospital stays. If they don’t, you might have to pay for some or all of the services.

If you’re using Medicare or Medicaid benefits, find out in advance if the health care provider will accept this type of coverage.

Interview Your Health Care Providers

Set up a meeting to interview the health care provider before you decide to work with him or her. You can also call or go online to learn more about the hospitals, cancer centers and medical schools that the provider works with.

Send a request for your medical records to the office of your primary care provider. Ask to have the records sent to the oncologist before your first appointment. The oncologist will then have time to review them before your meeting. This can make the visit more productive.

Provide a copy of your medical history, any test results, diagnosis and treatment records each time you meet with a new health care provider. This can save a lot of time.

The Office of the U.S. Surgeon General provides an online tool to create your own family health history. The tool takes the information you provide and creates a drawing of your family tree and a chart of your family health history. You can print the chart and share it with family members and your provider. This information can help you to talk with your doctor about disease prevention strategies that are right for you.

Your meeting with a new health care provider will give you a good idea about whether you want to work together. A sense of trust and the ability to work with your health care team are very important.

During Your First Meeting With Your Oncologist

  • Discuss your current diagnosis, pain problems, symptoms and any treatments you have already had.
  • Provide information about past health problems including cancer and other medical conditions.
  • Ask the provider about the cancer treatment plan he or she suggests for you.
  • Find out about the quality of the medical facilities the provider intends to use.

Be Your Own Advocate

There are many types of cancer. Your oncologist should have experience treating your specific type and stage of cancer. If the provider is not right for you, continue interviewing others until you find one you trust.

Even after you have started to work with a health care provider, you have the right to make a change if you have concerns. You can ask someone you trust, such as an oncology social worker, for suggestions and help to make the change. Check with your insurer to be certain that your plan will cover the services of the new care provider.

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