Choosing the right doctor, Who is the best for me?

Choosing the right doctor is the first and most crucial step in ensuring a better prognosis. Two common questions I am asked after a diagnosis of cancer are: Where should I go for treatment? Who is the best doctor for me?

My answer to the first question is quite straightforward. I believe that the best place is an oncology centre where all treatment facilities are available under one roof: surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy—with back up support available from other specialties as and when needed.

If it is also a research centre where clinical trials are held, you will be under the care of specialists who will be conversant with the latest treatment protocols and modalities. Even better if it has a cancer support group with a psycho-oncologist on call.

My answer to the second question is a bit more complex. Take references from sources you trust. You should obviously look for a doctor who has expertise and a proven track record in treating your kind of cancer, but more importantly, he/she should be a thorough professional. Based on my personal experience and that gained over the years at CanSupport, I would define a professional as follows.

■ Respectful and caring:
Someone who acknowledges you as a person, responds to your concerns and those of your family members, allows you to speak and listens to you with full attention. A doctor who greets you as you enter, puts you at ease, ensures privacy by asking others to leave the room, and keeps away the mobile phone. These are signs that I would look for in a doctor who I am going to entrust my life to for the next year or so.

■ Cooperative and open:
Someone who is willing to collaborate with fellow professionals, and is not averse to following the advice of colleagues. He/she should be ready to give you the slides and medical reports for a second opinion—even speak to your family doctor or any other person, should you request it. The doctor should give you the space and time to take decisions.

■ Communicative and honest:
Someone who explains the course of the illness and treatment in a simple, straightforward manner without sounding alarming. A readiness to discuss various options and involving you in the decision-making process is crucial too.

■ Reassuring and trustworthy:
Someone who is able and willing to answer all your small and big queries with patience and gives you useful info that may come in handy. This could be a name and number that you can call outside office hours, or in an emergency. I would be wary of a doctor who answers in monosyllables, does not make eye contact and gives you a number that’s never reachable.

■ Non-judgmental:
A doctor who is not willing to answer your questions, but insists instead on speaking to your husband, father or brother possibly believes that women are a weaker sex and unable to make well thought out decisions. However, you must not make assumptions either. It is best to challenge the doctor and ask for an explanation. Remember, you have the right to do so.

That said, your choice should also be based on your individual needs and expectations. There are people who would rather leave all decisions related to their illness to their caregivers or their doctors and are happy to follow instructions.

This is also a way of coping and perfectly legitimate as long as it does not affect the treatment process. What creates conflict in the doctor-patient relationship is a mismatch, say between a patient who wants to know more and a doctor who withholds information.
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