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Tom Galli


I’m reading of a Yale University study that advocates we choose primary care physicians by testing their political views. It is political open season and medical reporters want to join in the feeding frenzy.  The danger is some will believe a political test (views on motorcycle helmets, pot smoking and firearms to name a few) is necessary physician competency criteria, especially since the test is aimed at our closest and most important connection to the medical system—the general practitioner.

Although medical specialists (surgery and oncology) treat our lung cancer, we often develop illness unrelated to cancer, or just as likely, a side-effect runs wild.  So a general practitioner (GP) is a very important part of our treatment team.  Presuming you just realized you need one, what are factors a lung cancer survivor should consider in selecting a GP?  Here is my list.

  1. A Good Listener.  Does your GP listen?  This trait is essential for we have a serious ailment with complex symptoms. During chemotherapy, I didn’t have one symptomatic complaint, I had many and they overlapped and changed day-to-day. A listening GP will hear you out, then asks clarifying questions about symptoms before launching into an exam or grabbing the prescription tablet.
  2. Off The Clock.  Does your session seem rushed? Some I know complain their doctor is “on the clock” like a game show contestant during consultation.  That’s not good.  Part of the consultation should be reviewing the reports of specialists involved in your cancer treatment.  And, questions should arise after reports and test results are digested.  A proper review with understanding takes time, not a beat the clock contest.
  3. Renew Specialist Prescribed Medications.  Murphy’s Law of medicine is your nausea medication runs out just when your oncologist is booked solid.  Do you have a GP that will come to the prescription rescue?  Some doctors don’t want to intrude on practice privileges of other doctors.  That may be a fine philosophy but when you are suffering and a simple renewal script solves the problem, your GP ought to write the script.  This is a good question to ask when interviewing a prospective GP.
  4. Cancer Aware.  In lung cancer treatment, there are medical treatment effects—say radiation burns; medical side effects—nausea, pain, numbness; and related medical problems—depression, chest infections and even common colds.  Your GP should understand the complexity that a simple chest cold might mean to a lung cancer survivor.  Questions and observations to ferret out depression is an important diagnostic role and treatment or referral are essential. 
  5. Known and Respected.  My GP was the quarterback of my treatment team.  He selected the players (specialists), monitored their treatment, and intervened to steer the team to a solution that saved my life.  Your GP needs to know practitioners and be able to influence their actions when medical timidity breaks out.  That speaks to a seasoned professional well known in the local medical community.

Politics and medicine should be like oil and water—never to mix.  Medical doctors have a higher calling and abide by the Hippocratic Oath.  They swear to share medical knowledge, act always to benefit the sick, and to treat those ill warmly with sympathy and understanding.  In stark contrast, I can name quite a few politicians who forgot taking an oath of office the instant after administration.


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