U.S. News and World Report recently named the “best” hospitals in the U.S. The marketing hype surrounding the list needs to be balanced with the reality of what good care means. Although the magazine names some of the best, they also name others who by coincidence pad the magazine with full page ads. That is the nature of the magazine trade, selling ads for stories. But health care is a different commodity than a car or washing machine. Your life may depend on the quality and judicious doctoring that the institution provides. For melanoma care, you do need a specialist opinion because of the complexity of the treating the disease. Here are some tips in finding a place of excellence:
1. Look to the doctors who practice at the hospital. Are they published in recent research about melanoma? Look to see: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed.
2. Where did the medical providers train? Was there a melanoma program where they trained?
3. Are the clinical trials offered up-to-date or using old therapies? The hospital website should have a list of their clinical trials.
4. Do they have a melanoma group that incorporates the many specialties you might need: dermatology, surgical oncology, oncology, radiology, neurology, etc.
5. What do other patients said about the institution? (look to www.melanomaforum.org for that)
6. Is it a big city hospital where you might be lost or a smaller place that still has excellent research? Both have their attributes.
7. Does the institution have the approval and accreditation of the National Cancer Institute?
8. Is the hospital a non-profit or for-profit (although there can be little difference these days)
9. Does the institution accept most health insurance policies? Beware of those who don’t.
10 Is the hospital a teaching institution? The staff is usually up to speed with a training program in place especially if it is in melanoma.
I know the tendency is to want to stick close to the safety of your own home when you have a melanoma diagnosis. But traveling meant the world of difference to my treatment. Hospitals are daunting places that make you feel powerless. Take an advocate with you, friend or family member who can support you when you run into any difficulty. Remember you are paying them for a service and not the other way around. You should be treated with full respect and given careful diligence on decision making no matter what hospital you choose for your treatment.