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Cancer is a horrible disease, and the treatment is almost as bad. Private cancer clinics spare their patients from many of the hassles of going to hospitals, but drug and insurance company policies are running many private oncologists out of business.

Everyone knows that getting chemotherapy for cancer is usually an awful experience. The nausea, the vomiting, and the loss of hair and skin color and taste and smell make most cancer patients think twice about whether chemotherapy isn't as bad as the disease. The fact is, chemotherapy usually extends life, and there can be more good days than bad, but the last thing cancer patients need is long waits and bureaucratic hassles to get their treatment.

The Pros And Cons of Getting Chemo At The Hospital Or At the Doctor's Office

And that's exactly what happens at most university hospitals. The problem is that university hospitals offer more services and different kinds of services that private cancer doctors cannot. Hospitals can do MRIs, CT scans, and all kinds of lab work on site. A private practice oncologist can refer you to those services, of course, but chances are what you'll get when you go to your oncologist's office is just the treatment you need that day, in, out, go home. 

At a hospital, you can get other services. You aren't the hospital's only patient, however, so appointments for other services can run behind. That can make you late for your chemotherapy, or make other patients late for their chemotherapy. It's not unusual for chemotherapy sessions to run 60 minutes, 90 minutes, or even 2 or 3 hours late, meaning you have to spend the entire day at the hospital, feeling awful. At a private oncology clinic, you'll at least only have to feel awful for the length of your visit and maybe a few minutes more.

Private cancer doctors also provide you with familiar faces every time you go for treatment. You can get to know your doctor, and your doctor can get to know you.

Your doctor's insurance staff — many private cancer clinics have 20 to 40 support staff for each doctor — will know how to get your coverage to pay for the treatments you need. And your doctor's in-house pharmacy will be more likely to be aware of potential drug interactions and how you react to your treatment, helping you avoid some of the side effects and some of the complications of treatment.

Just How Many Private Oncologists Are Going Out of Business?

It's getting harder and harder, however, to find a private clinic for cancer treatment. The Community Oncology Alliance, an advocacy group representing about 1,500 private cancer clinics in the United States, notes that since 2008:

  • 544 independent cancer practices were purchased by or entered into contractual relationships with hospitals,
  • 395 independent cancer practices reported they were operating at a loss, and
  • 313 independent cancer practices went out of business.

This means that either the clinic where you can get faster service that allows you get home sooner is under considerable stress, many clinics not able to pay their doctors, or the clinic you could have gone to a few years ago has closed. More and more cancer patients have to go to hospitals for treatment, where it's almost guaranteed that every chemo session will take most of a day or an entire day, every time. 

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