How to choose a cancer facility
Given cancer’s complexity, a center that offers a full spectrum of diagnostic and treatment options, as well as specialty departments, can make a big difference in your experience and in your outcome.
- Most cancer patients need care from more than one type of specialist.
- Diagnosis may require several different studies to adequately characterize a malignancy.
- There’s usually more than one way to treat your condition, and the best treatment is usually a combination of strategies. If your center can do it all, it’s more likely that your treatment plan will be the most effective.
- Some patients experience a wide range of symptoms and side effects that require specialists with in-depth knowledge to prevent or minimize them.
- Most patients want and need other help, such as emotional support, financial counseling and physical therapy.
- You may have pre-existing medical conditions that need to be managed in conjunction with your cancer treatment.
- When comprehensive services are offered within the single center, staff specialists are more likely to work as a team.
Some Considerations :
- Outpatient services
Does the center offer as many services as possible on an outpatient basis? Outpatient care is generally less stressful and can save you money.
- Inpatient services
There are times when an inpatient stay is unavoidable. Is there more than one hospital you can choose? If so, what are the differences? What special services do they offer beyond the standard hospital services? Who will see you while you’re in the hospital?
- Diagnosis and testing
Are diagnostic tests done on site? Do they have access to a variety of advanced imaging methods such as CT Scans, MRI, P.E.T. scans? Ask if there are any gaps in their diagnostic capabilities.
Ask about the treatment options they have available for your type of cancer. What is offered in specialized surgical techniques, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, gene therapy, and complementary medicine? Are clinical trials available? Do they offer treatment techniques that are not available elsewhere?
- Side effect and symptom management
Ask what percent of patients have severe nausea and pain after surgery. The percentage should be low since there are very effective treatments available to prevent pain and gastrointestinal symptoms after surgery. Also ask about specialty services for problems that may occur as a result of your type of cancer. For instance, if you’re a breast cancer patient, you’11 want to ask about specialized physical therapy for Lymphedema. In general, you may want to ask about pain management services, dermatology, dentistry, nutritional counseling and psychological counseling.
Rehabilitation is often an important part of treatment and follow-up. Ask about specialty services for problems that may occur as a result of your type of cancer. For example, a patient with a head or neck tumor may require help with difficulties in speech, memory or motor skills. Patients suffering from other types of cancer may want to ask about physical therapy, occupational therapy and sexual counseling.
- Urgent care
Ask if health care professionals will be available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in case of an urgent or emergent need. What is the process for getting urgent care? Does the center provide adequate education about warning signs so you can catch problems early?
- Lifetime follow-up
Check to see if long term follow-up is considered part of the center’s standard of care. Ask if they have providers who specialize in long term survivorship issues, how often you’ll be seen, and who will follow your progress.
- Risk assessment
If you have a family history of cancer, you may want to know about risk factors and the implications of genetic testing for yourself and your family members. Ask if the center offers genetics counseling.
- Emotional support
Ask about services for stress management, family counseling, and image recovery. Do center practitioners facilitate support groups and mentoring programs? Are all staff members and volunteers trained to be sensitive to the unique emotional needs of cancer patients?
- Social services
Does the center have knowledgeable social workers who and can help you and your family get access to additional emotional, social, physical and financial support services and help you with practical concerns such as transportation or equipment for your home?
- End of life decisions
Does the center provide ethics specialists who can help you to make informed decisions regarding medical treatment at end of life and the use of advance directives, living wills and health care proxies? What other end-of-life services do they offer?