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Changing Doctors

Posted 3/31/2016

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  It is not so unusual to wonder if you would be happier with another doctor. Sometimes the reasons are specifically related to the doctor/patient relationship and sometimes they are really more about the institutional or office context. By that I mean that the concerns may be that it is tough to reach your doctor or you often have to wait a long time for a call back or that you spend too much time in the waiting room for a doctor who always runs far behind schedule.

  Whatever the reasons, if you are thinking about this, it is worth careful consideration. We are blessed in Boston to have a number of world-class hospitals, so receiving the very best cancer care is not usually an issue. There are lots of other places, I know, where that is not true, and the choices are less stellar. There can be limitations placed on your choices by your insurance. Cancer care is very expensive, and it isn't smart to make a doctor/hospital choice without being sure that it will be in network and/or covered by your insurance carrier. If you are not able, with your insurance, to see a particular specialist whom you admire, consider calling your insurance company to ask if they would cover a time one consultation. Alternately, you could ask how much such a visit would cost and think about paying for it yourself. (Warning: if you do this, do not have any tests or scans as the price will sky rocket. Take your test results with you.)

  If your concerns are related to the relationship and/or style of your doctor, it may be worth trying to talk about it with her. Almost all doctors want to sustain positive and trusting relationships with their patients, and it is not impossible that she is unaware of the problems. You could say, for example, "I feel that you don't always listen carefully to what I am saying. I am always nervous when I come for these visits, and I need your careful attention." Remember the old rules about starting with I statements that are less likely to arouse defensiveness on the part of your listener.

  Finally, consider the timing. It is much more complicated to make a change in the middle of treatment. If it is possible, think about a switch either before or afterwards.

  Here is a good article by Heather Millar from The New York Times about this:

Should You Change Doctors?
By Heather Millar

“I don’t really feel comfortable with my doctor.” I’ve heard a lot of fellow cancer patients and survivors say
something to this effect.
Sometimes, it sounds something like, “I don’t click with my doc, and I wonder if I should do something
about it.”
But other times, the statement includes a feeling of powerlessness, “I don’t click with my doc, and there’s
nothing I can do.”
Let me say up front that I’ve never experienced this in cancer treatment. I chose my medical team for very
specific reasons (I wanted the smartest team I could find, and looked for emotional support elsewhere).
But I did experience a doctor dilemma when I was going through another medical challenge: trying to get
pregnant. I won’t go into all the lengthy details, suffice to say that having a kid was a years-long,
complicated process for my husband and me.
We started that journey with one doc. She was super smart, responsive, professional. She was usually the
brainiest person in the room. But I didn’t feel comfortable with her. She just wasn’t warm. I didn’t feel I
could just chat with her, and I’m the kind of person who usually can talk to a rock.
So halfway through the process, I asked to switch doctors. Thankfully, I was getting treatment at a big
practice at a big medical center, so there were choices.

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