• What do wish your oncologist did differently or better ?

    Asked by saltermd on Friday, February 10, 2012

    What do wish your oncologist did differently or better ?

    I'm curious about how patients perceive their oncologist as their advocate and provider during their treatment course. I'm not so much looking for criticism as much as I am interested in how you wish things would change to make your experience more mutually beneficial. Thanks.

    17 Answers from the Community

    17 answers
    • CarolLHRN's Avatar

      The one thing I wish my oncologist did better was to explain things more than once. I think as a patient, you are overwhelmed that you have cancer and everything doesn't sink in right away. Sometimes I get caught up on one thing he says and I miss everything else. I always bring a friend with me to be a good listener when I can't but it would be helpful to just make sure I'm on the same page as him every visit.

      The other thing I wish was better was that I was instructed to call with any side effects from my chemo, but when I call, the office just notes the sides effects but doesn't give a solution or even a time frame when the side effects will improve. I kind of feel why bother calling if nothing is going to change. I can see calling if the side effect was severe but all the little stuff that I can handle myself, I don't see the need to call.

      I do appreciate my oncologist reviewing my blood work with me and explaining the goals of the values during chemo. He also explains why each test is important. I also like that I can e-mail with a question and he gets back to me in a day or two or someone from his office will.

      Thank you for asking this question. I know there are a lot of people on this site that do not have good experiences with their oncologist so I'm sure you will get lots of good information.

      over 4 years ago
    • danellsar's Avatar

      I wish my husband's oncologist gave straight answers to time questions. He was originally given a 6-12 mos prognosis. It's been 11 mos and he's still going, still doing chemo. When his doctor goes on about how great his blood work looks, and we ask if this "revises" his prognosis, I wish she'd just say yes or no, and not change the subject. I know there are no guarantees, but a straight answer would be nice.

      I'd like the oncologist to be more specific about when to call and when to just wait for the next appointment. Many times my husband will have pain or other side effects but will not want to call because he thinks there's no point.

      over 4 years ago
    • RuthAnne's Avatar

      I wish that she wouldn't wait for me to ask a question to give me information about something. From some of the things that I've read, I understand that doctors are now trained to behave this way so they don't give patients 'more than they can handle'. I understand why they do it, but it assumes that all cancer patients are the same, which they aren't.

      over 4 years ago
    • Stevedarke's Avatar


      The truth is they can’t give you an answer because they don’t know! Any answer they will give you is based on statistics and their own experience which may vary widely from one oncologist to another even when dealing with the same cancer.

      The body will only give out when it is good and ready and not before.


      over 4 years ago
    • Cindy's Avatar

      I had to wait about 2-1/2 hours before my first chemo treatment because they didn't figure out beforehand how much co-pay I needed to pay that day. After about 2 hours I was pacing the floors wondering why everyone who was there before me and almost everyone who came in after me was already called in. I finally asked and the receptionist who said they needed my co-pay that day and she hadn't figured it out yet. She said I needed to pay thousands of dollars and wanted to set up a payment plan which was totally wrong because she mixed up my catastrophic limit and my deductible which I had already met that year. I was so upset because I could not get her to understand. I began talking very loudly (maybe shouting) because of all the stress of wondering what side affects I would have with the chemo and having to deal with someone who knew very little about insurance. I am normally a very patient person. My husband who had been sleeping woke up and told me he would handle it. I paced outside around the medical buildings about 10 times until I finally came in and was sitting there crying softly wondering if I should go to another doctor or go through with my first chemo. My husband talked to the nurse and said if she didn't come and get me we would find another doctor. The nurse gave me a sedative to calm me down before giving the chemo. The receptionist came in while I was with the nurse to talk about my insurance again. She again gave me wrong information and told me the non-preferred provider rate when that doctor was a preferred provider for my insurance. My husband eventually found out that the insurance was actually done at another place in another state and got things worked out. I also had a problem when my doctor's answering service hung up on me when I was talking - she kept saying over and over that should couldn't help me cause she wasn't a doctor. I was trying to get her to have the doctor call me back or someone who could help me about a urinary tract infection I had. My husband called back and asked why she hung up on me and she said that she thought I was done talking. He asked her to have the doctor call me back which he never did. My doctor was out sick a lot when I was having my chemo treatments and did not have any back up doctors to help him out although there was the name of another doctor on the sign outside and on the information they provided to me earlier. (After I finished my chemo, he got another doctor to help him which is good.) I tried switching doctors but most of the oncologists from the only other oncologist office in our town wouldn't take me because they didn't want to be accused of "stealing" patients and I had already started treatment. When I talk with my oncologist he is very nice and his medical staff is nice but the administrative part was horrible.

      over 4 years ago
    • susie81610's Avatar

      I do have to say mine is perfect for me. I see his PA which is his wife and Iam so comfortable with her she comes in the room and sits down and you are the only person in the world. She is straight forward has answers to the questions or gets them have given her list to answer she shares with you what the other Drs. on the team have to say and explains all of your treatment. I can call or get in anytime I need to they are always there.
      I started out with a horrible oncologist that all he wanted to talk about is golf and wore bowties and looked like a clown hair and all didn't take to long before we fired him he was a nightmare. I feel if I would have stayed with him I still would not be here he was not aggressive at all my husband did all the pushing for surgery and test and the surgeon was not pleased that it took 2 extra months because there was more scar tissues. So needless to say if you don't like a Dr. keep looking and move on it is all up to you!
      Good Luck

      over 4 years ago
    • nancyjac's Avatar

      I actually can't think of anything I would change. My oncologist is straight forward, informative, gives me the time and attention I need, and always stays on top of my treatments and coordinates with my other doctors (PCP, Surgeon, Radiologist, testing facilities, etc.). Now that I think about it, she is a lot like me in personality. Practical, non-nonsense, no drama attitude but still very cordial, professional, and even a sense of humor. Our communications are a two way street and we both talk and we both listen. Her practice includes 2 other oncologists and one of them is always on call during non-office hours. I have been seeing her every other week during chemo. The office has their own chemo suite and lab and the nurses and technicians are great. Even the office staff is always on top of things, getting new referrals and appointments for me as needed without me having to even ask. It is about a 1/2 drive from my house so if it were closer that would be nice, but that is about the only thing I would change if I had a magic wand.

      over 4 years ago
    • Molly72's Avatar

      Thanks for asking, that is a wonderful first step for many doctors! LOL

      Last year I went through 9 months of 4 surgeries, and uncountable tests in a major teaching hospital in the Midwest. It was unbelievably traumatic both physically and mentally.

      There was supposedly one oncologist in charge of my case, I saw her only twice. But, I saw at least 25 (really) different doctors in those 9 months. I had a major surgery late in December -- a GIST, with several serious complications. No one from the hospital, including the surgeon bothered to call after I was discharged to see how I was recovering. I have an appointment late in this month to see the oncologist, and believe me, it will be my last visit to this facility!

      My experience, especially the post surgical care in this hospital has been a dark comedy of errors... too complex to describe in this short message. But, the message that I am trying to impart to your question is...... pay attention to what your patients tell you, PLEASE! We are not as ignorant and ill-informed about our bodies as you might think.
      The next most important fact is communication. In my facility, it was almost completely missing. No one knew what was going on with anyone else, especially with the patient!

      Thanks for letting me vent.

      over 4 years ago
    • leepenn's Avatar

      This is a FANTASTIC question! I'm going to keep this to my top three likes for my docs....

      One thing I like about both of my top docs (onc and surgical onc) is that they are very responsive on email. I was invited to email questions, and I get clear and concise answers to questions within about 24 hours of sending. The surgical onc also invited me to call - in fact - he said call if something is stressing you out.... And again, he is very responsive in calling back quickly. He also personally called me with MRI results, which turned out to not be scary, but I was super worried they would be scary.

      The second thing I like about them both is that they meet me where I am. I'm a science professor, which means I dive right into the primary scientific literature when I have questions. I know how to read those articles, even though my background in medicinal chemistry and biochemistry is not terribly strong. When I have questions, they often respond by sending me articles they think represent the state of the art in the field, which I love.

      Finally, the third thing I like about them both is that I feel they are both very professional and full of compassion. I never feel like they are pressed for time when we meet to discuss treatment plans and surgery details and so forth. Not once have I felt like I needed to be quickly pushed through the appointment.

      Advice to patients: For all of the appointments save one, I have taken my computer, on which I have access to a google doc containing my questions of the moment. During the appointments, I connect onto the network, and I ask every single one of my questions. Often, the docs end up addressing questions before I ask, which is pretty awesome. They have been very patient as I review my document to be sure that I've asked all my questions etc.... For that one appointment that I did not take my compuer, I kick myself for it because I forgot to ask about three important questions. Sigh... But, I emailed those questions and quickly received answers... so it was fine. So, my advice is that patients take a list of questions in whatever form works (paper, computer, smart phone....). In the moment, it's easy to get overwhelmed with some of the answers and to forget some of the questions! That's exactly what happened in that one appointment for me.

      Ok - second bit of advice to patients: tell your docs about every single blasted side effect, even if it involves your butt hole. Yes - these side effects are embarrassing... and might take some time to consider options for making you more comfortable... but at the end of the day, they need to know so that they can make treatment go more easily for you but also for everyone. Sharing information about side effects does not make you appear weak - it simply means you've got that side effect - nothing more - nothing less.

      Ok - the one negative.... I feel like the docs should do a better job of recommending appropriate supplements and stuff like that. My docs did not recommend any supplements... When I did my own research and came up with a list of supplements, my doc did review every single one with me, rejecting two and suggesting the addition of one. But, the scientific literature shows us that there are a number of supplements that really do make treatment easier. One example is glutamine (10g in water - 3x per day), which helps with mouthsores, digestive system issues, and more (check with your doc before adding to your own regimen, of course!!!!!). So, why don't they say something like - consider adding this supplement to your daily routine - research shows that it makes a difference! The nurses, on the other hand, are full of tips and advice for daily living on chemo.

      Yup - good question. That was nice to think about. I've felt very lucky to have such good medical care. I cannot imagine what it would be like to go through this without good medical care!!!!

      Hugs to everyone....

      over 4 years ago
    • HighwayOfJoy's Avatar

      I am sure that my oncologist is a very brilliant man, but he would not even discuss alternatives with me. He said that he would, but then his answer was always, "I would not be comfortable with that". He would not investigate alternatives, but he expected me to go blindly along with what he wanted. In the end, his attitude was, "my way or the highway." I chose the highway.

      over 4 years ago
    • JannD's Avatar

      Good Morning, Doctor;
      Thank you for trying to be better at what you do. Just by asking this question, tells me that you are probably a head above most out there.
      I am an RN, so when I am with my husband I usually have questions. But, like anyone else in shock, it is hard to absorb it all, particularly when this all began last May.
      First, let me talk about the good things. We have had two Oncologists because my husband lost his insurance and had to switch to the VA for care. Our first Oncologist was amazing in the fact that it was like being in the room with Wikipedia. He gave us so much information, we hardly needed to ask much. He would make drawings on napkins, whatever ot took to get his point across.
      But he was so good about saying up front, "If you have a question, ask. If you have the same question next week, ask it again, and again. We know how hard this is for you". I thought that was great.
      He spent a lot of time We hated to leave. But he told us to feel confident in the VA and that their care would be the same. That helped.
      The VA oncologist is also pretty good. He also spends a lot of time. He gets on the computer, makes sure he did not miss anything. Only once would I say he could have used better "bedside technique"

      We came in for our next treatment and the labs are always drawn first. He walked in the room, and before he even sat down, he said, "I have bad news for you". WOW! We did not breathe for the nest few minutes. My husband has been on hormone therapy only. The PSA was rising. He said it seemed like it might not be working anymore and he might have the "Fast growing" form of prostate cancer. Ct scans and bone scans were ordered. Unfortunately, he was correct. New growth. We just started chemo.

      Anyway, that is my two cents. Otherwise, both have been great and I never had the feeling they had one hand on the doorknob waiting to run to the next patient. That is important.
      Thanks again for asking this.

      over 4 years ago
    • saltermd's Avatar

      Thanks to everyone who took the time to provide their insight on this issue. Some of your comments really struck a cord, and I will use them in discussing with my colleagues how to better serve our patients and their families. What an amazing opportunity to learn from courageous people like all of you !!

      PS: I would still encourage any additional comments if anyone has something to add to this dialogue.

      over 4 years ago
    • Lynn's Avatar

      I do not have much else to add, but wanted to say thank you for asking! As a chemotherapy dropout, I was somewhat amazed that my oncologist never followed up to see why I did not return. The regiment made me so very sick, the end did not justify the means in my mind. The decision to discontinue was made with my surgeon as well as close observation to assure no reoccurrence. Anyway, no one in his office every inquired why or offered an alternative. That always struck me as a bit uncaring or uninterested.

      over 4 years ago
    • ttisme's Avatar

      I'm on treatment 6/12. My onc first met with me and my family, and was ready for every question we had. She welcomed the extended family involvement. She answered us honestly, she didn't try to candy coat what I was going to encounter. Her support staff, well, they are the best. I see one of two PA's, an onc nurse and a doc every appt. They remember me, and the family member that's with me.

      I was terrified of going to a large practice and getting lost as a number. There might be 100 docs in this practice, but I still feel like I walked up the street to our family doc, 40 years ago.

      over 4 years ago
    • PPaseka's Avatar

      I guess overall we are pleased with my wife's oncologist's. We are not pleased with the overall condition of healthcare in general. While the staff at our cancer center are very compassionate, they leave a lot to be desired. Time management is non existent unless it is toward the end of the day, when it is approaching their go home time. We have had her iv delivery rates set wrong costing us another hour hooked up, we have had them fail to restart an iv after pushing meds which we discovered after 50 minutes, we had the dietiticion give us a list of foods to eat to help her maintain weight, energy, etc. without knowing that she was having pelvic radiation and that list of foods are foods to avid while having pelvic radiation. This info was given to my wife while in an exam room on the radiation side of the center. The very first day of chemotherapy we were to meet with the nurse practicioner at 8:30 am. She didn't even arrive until 8:50 and then sat at her desk and ate breakfast before seeing her. If I run my business, like healthcare run their's, I would go broke. Healthcare professionals forget that we are the customers, and if our needs are not meet we will go somewhere else.

      over 4 years ago
    • pigeon's Avatar

      My onc is a great doc but my numerous requests to see my x-rays, pet scans, mri's were always glossed over with an answer that all he had were reports and couldn't actually see my bones or the tumors. I didn't understand beause I had cd's of all of my scans, xrays, etc. but I don't know what I'm looking at. I got a second opinion from an orthopedic oncologist who showed me and explained to me what he thinks is going on in my body. That's all I wanted to know. Draw on a napkin or show me the pictures, but please show me. The second opinion also confirmed we are on track with my treatment which is a good feeling.

      over 4 years ago
    • IKickedIt's Avatar

      Thank you for asking! I'm impressed!

      I was just interviewed for the Patient's Corner of an oncology journal and this was a question that was presented.

      Personally, I loved my oncologist. I shopped around the Philadelphia area (so there are a lot of top-notched oncologists here), and I found an oncologist who was connected to a top hospital, but at a satellite office so I didn't have the stress of going into town.

      I felt that when I was with my oncologist, I was his most important patient. He never rushed through appointments. He was also very thorough and routine. I liked the routine. I knew that every time I saw him (every other treatment) we would go over the same exact things and that was very reassuring to me that everything would be discussed. I never had to write myself notes (chemo brain) because I knew every question he would ask.

      Being a small satellite office and infusion center, I also liked that he would walk through occasionally to visit us during our treatments. Even if he was on his way to see the oncology nurses, he always spent a minute with each patient...just that one minute made me smile.

      The only thing I didn't like and it's going to seem completely ridiculous...

      Going through the routine list of things to discuss, he would say, "OK, onto your complaints." I hated that word! I'm not a complainer! I even teased him about that and begged him to use a different word.

      over 4 years ago

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