Finding Health Care Services

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Women at Computer in Office

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, finding a doctor and treatment facility for your cancer care is an important step to getting the best treatment possible.

You will have many factors to consider when choosing a doctor. It’s important for you to feel comfortable with the specialist that you choose because you will be working closely with that person to make decisions about your cancer treatment.

Choosing a Doctor

To find a doctor that specializes in cancer care, ask your primary care doctor for a referral. (If you don’t have a primary care doctor, call the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER for help.) Depending on your health insurance plan, your choices may be limited to doctors who participate in your plan. You also have the option of seeing a doctor outside your health insurance plan and paying the costs yourself. If you have the option to change health insurance plans, first you may want to decide which doctor or doctors you would like to use, and then choose the plan that includes your chosen physician(s).

Some specialists that treat cancer are:

Oncologist: specializes in treating cancer

Hematologist: focuses on diseases of the blood and related tissues, including the bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes

Radiation oncologist: uses x-rays and other forms of radiation to diagnose and treat disease

Surgeon: performs operations on almost any area of the body and may specialize in a certain type of surgery

If you are using a federal or state health insurance program such as Medicare or Medicaid, you will want to ask if the doctor you would like to see is accepting patients who use these programs.

To help make your decision, when you meet with each person, think about if the doctor:

  • Listens to you and treats you with respect
  • Explains things clearly
  • Encourages you to ask questions
  • Has office hours that meet your needs
  • Has someone who provides care if the doctor is unavailable
  • Is easy to get an appointment with

It’s important for you to feel good about the doctor you choose. You will be working with this person closely as you make decisions about your cancer treatment. Trust your own feelings and observations as you make your choice.

Doctor Reassuring Elderly Woman

Getting a Second Opinion from Another Doctor

After you talk to a doctor about the diagnosis and treatment plan for your cancer, you may want to get a second opinion from another doctor before you begin treatment. You want to be as informed as possible when making your treatment choices. Some patients worry that doctors will be offended if they ask for a second opinion. Usually the opposite is true. Most doctors welcome a second opinion. And many health insurance companies pay for them or even require them.

If you get a second opinion, the doctor may agree with your first doctor’s treatment plan. Or he or she may suggest another approach or modify the first one. Either way, you will have more information and perhaps a greater sense of control. You can feel more confident about the decisions you make, knowing that you’ve looked at all of your options.

If your doctor can’t recommend another specialist for a second opinion, call the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-4-CANCER for help.

Choosing a Treatment Facility

If you have already found a doctor for your cancer treatment, you may need to choose a treatment facility based on where your doctor practices. However, you may be limited to facilities that take part in your health insurance plan. If you are thinking about paying for treatment yourself, you will want to discuss the possible costs with your doctor beforehand. Nurses and social workers may also be able to give you more information about coverage, eligibility, and insurance issues.

NCI-Designated Cancer Centers may be another source for cancer treatment.The centers are institutions dedicated to providing more effective approaches to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. Most of the centers include clinical programs that offer patients the latest forms of treatment for a wide range of cancers, as well as access to clinical trials.

For more information, see the NCI fact sheet How to Find a Doctor or Treatment Facility If You Have Cancer. Or call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) for help.

Finding Health Insurance

The Affordable Care Act changes how health insurance works in the United States, with implications for the prevention, screening, and treatment of cancer. Under this health care law, most Americans are required to have health insurance.

If you do not have health insurance or want to look at new options, the online Health Insurance Marketplace lets you compare plans in your state based on price, benefits, quality, and other needs you may have. To learn about the Health Insurance Marketplace and your new coverage options, please go to Healthcare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov or call toll-free at 1-800-318-2596 (TTY: 1-855-889-4325).

Home Care Services

Sometimes patients want to be cared for at home so they can be in familiar surroundings with family and friends. Home care services can help patients stay at home by using a team approach with doctors, nurses, social workers, physical therapists, and others.

If the patient qualifies for home care services, such services may include:

  • Managing symptoms and monitoring care
  • Delivery of medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Emotional and spiritual care
  • Help with preparing meals and personal hygiene
  • Providing medical equipment

For many patients and families, home care can be both rewarding and demanding. It can change relationships and require families to cope with all aspects of patient care. New issues may also arise that families need to address such as the logistics of having home care providers coming into the home at regular intervals. To prepare for these changes, patients and caregivers should ask questions and get as much information as possible from the home care team or organization. A doctor, nurse, or social worker can provide information about a patient’s specific needs, the availability of services, and the local home care agencies.

Getting Financial Assistance for Home Care

Help with paying for home care services may be available from public or private sources. Private health insurance may cover some home care services, but benefits vary from plan to plan.

Some public resources to help pay for home care are:

  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS): A government agency responsible for the administration of several key federal health care programs. Two of these are
    • Medicare: A government health insurance program for the elderly or disabled. For information, visit their website or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
    • Medicaid: A joint federal and state health insurance program for those who need help with medical expenses. Coverage varies by state.

Both Medicare and Medicaid may cover home care services for patients who qualify, but some rules apply. Talk to a social worker and other members of the health care team to find out more about home care providers and agencies. For more information contact the CMS online or call 1-877-267-2323.

  • Eldercare Locator: Run by the U.S. Administration on Aging, it provides information about local Area Agencies on Aging and other assistance for older people. These agencies may provide funds for home care. Eldercare Locator can be reached at 1-800-677-1116 for more information.

For other resources for home care, call the NCI Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or visit cancer.gov.