Right after I was diagnosed with cancer, I started digging into research about my doctor. I initially met him through the arbitrary process of being admitted to the hospital via the ER of my local hospital. He was on call that Monday evening. This is no way to choose a doctor, especially when you’re facing a serious medical condition that will have lifetime surveillance.
I easily found out two things about him on the internet. First, he had recently gotten married. The internet was awash with his wedding. Second, the one patient who had reviewed him thought he was adorable. She said, and I paraphrase, Dr. C is so charming and handsome. If I were younger and he was single, I’d marry him.
As far as relevant information goes, none of this was helpful. Yelp is nothing more than a place to vent or crow. Specialist websites such as Healthgrades solicit some “serious” information, most of it based on impressions and details such as ease of scheduling or wait time. They also give information about whether a doc has sanctions.
However, as the May 2016 Consumer Reports reveals, these are hardly up-to-date and thorough. CR tells the story of Dr. Leonard Kurian, who had "multiple and egregious complaints," including removing the wrong ovary from one patient and causing the deaths of two.
“In the case of Kurian, the California board placed him on probation from 2015 until 2022, citing 40 instances of his negligence and incompetence, yet allowed him to keep practicing….And he doesn’t have to tell new or existing patients he’a on probation…”
However, he had a 3.4 out of 5 stars on Healthgrades. One patient wrote, “I’ll never go anywhere else!” So much for crowd sourcing.
So, where do you find helpful information? Below are ideas for reviewing all doctors and some specifically for choosing cancer docs.
State Medical Boards
You can find links to your state’s medical board here. According to the CR, California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and North Carolina have the best websites for finding out about whether a doc has been disciplined.
The sites aren’t especially easy to use. For instance, when you go to the site for Illinois, which is here, you have to search for your next step. Go to Professional Regulation and then License Lookup, type in the doctor’s name and you can see if he/she has any sanctions.
If your doctor has sanctions, you should definitely talk to her about them. Medical Boards don’t issues sanctions lightly.
Where your doc has privileges is very important. A good doc who works at a bad hospital isn’t a good fit.
You can find information about hospitals in at least two places. First, you can subscribe to Consumer Reports and see their evals here: Second, you can go to the government’s Medicare site, which rates hospitals here
Relationship with Pharmaceutical Companies
The investigative journalism site, ProPublica, has begun publishing results of government data on money that docs accept from pharmaceutical and medical device companies, a project called Dollars for Docs. As a result of their analysis of that data, they report that docs who accept more than $5000 from these companies are more likely to prescribe name brand drug instead of generics. The data that they gather also shows the types of drugs that they’re likely to prescribe. You might have concerns about a doc prescribing too many antibiotics or not being conservative enough with other medications. This is a good place to find out that information.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you seek out an NCI-designated hospital. These centers are equipped with physicians, nutritionists, social workers, everyone you need on your team in one place. They usually offer patient navigators to help you through the process. Even more important, these teams practice research-based and evidence-based medicine, the best in the U.S.
Doctor Credentials and the Interview
It’s easy to find out where your doctor was trained, where she did her residency, and where he has practiced. In fact, this is a good way to start an interview with your doctor. From there you can talk with a doc about her style of decision making, his approach to follow-up care, and her openness. Make a list of questions and ask for some time.
Here’s a site that can give you more information about how to question a doctor.
When I interviewed Dr. C, I discovered a young, well-trained physician who was more than wiling to listen to and answer every single one of my seemingly thousands of questions. He never sighs or rolls his eyes when I bring in research I’ve located. In fact, he shares recent research with me and always seems glad to read what I’ve discovered.
He’s efficient, uses his time well, but will make time for me to talk. And, I have to note, that I keep checking in on him. I’ve queried him about the lower-than-expected rating of my local hospital where he practices. I keep track of how much money he’s accepting from pharmaceutical companies, and check in on his licensure and the medical board.
If you want to find out whether or not your doc is handsome and charming, be sure to check out the Yelp reviews (or look at his/her photos and videos on Google). If you want to find out information about her professional qualifications, you’ll need to do your homework.
I got lucky. The doc I met in the hospital through the ER has turned out to be a first-rate practitioner in whom I have the greatest confidence.
This is the third blog I've written for my coffee shop project. My goal is to explore my community, discover new coffee shops, and blog while I'm doing it. Yesterday I went to the The Plush Horse. Honestly, it's not the best place to write, and I ended up coming home to do the work. However, the folks there are sweet and it's obvious that their ice cream is their claim to fame. I saw lots of happy families and lots of kids with bright blue ice cream. Thanks to Jen at Life As I see It for recommending it to me.
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