Physician Referral Service Offers Easy Access to Treatment

(From left) Patricia Desmond and Suzanne Carmody

(From left) Patricia Desmond and Suzanne Carmody

A cancer diagnosis can provoke fear and apprehension and often affects entire families. When patients or caregivers call Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Physician Referral Service (PRS) to learn about treatment options, they find compassion and expert guidance.

The service assists anyone who calls the toll-free number (800-525-2225) or makes an inquiry online at Sometimes a caller may have a question regarding general information about cancer, but more often the contact is triggered by a recent diagnosis.

“Most callers are feeling anxious and upset,” said Suzanne Carmody, Director of the PRS. “The first message we try to get across is ’Let me see how I can help you.’ We let them tell their story and then ask questions to get a clearer picture of their situation. We are then able to help them decide on their next step — and which Memorial Sloan Kettering physician or service might be best for their needs.”

In 2009, the PRS received more than 240,000 calls from patients, family members, physicians, and friends, and in the first six months of 2010 more than 122,000 calls were received. “The toll-free number makes it very easy to access the Referral Service,” Ms. Carmody said. “Anyone can call if they’re interested in seeing a physician here. They don’t need to live in the New York City area or have a previous connection with Memorial Sloan Kettering.”

The PRS staff of about 50 professionals is organized into four teams with expertise in different cancer types. Each team consists of two oncology nurses and seven or eight referral specialists trained for their disease group. When patients or family members phone, the call is routed to the appropriate specialist.

“At times of great stress — such as immediately following a diagnosis of cancer — people may not know where to turn,” Ms. Carmody observed. “Our staff counsels callers and helps focus them as to their next steps. Someone might call and say, ’I found a lump in my breast this morning and I don’t know what to do,’ and the specialist will ask her whether she’s seen her doctor, or had a mammogram or an ultrasound.”

The referral specialists know what information is needed from a patient before an appointment can be made, and they are familiar with each physician’s area of expertise. The nurses in PRS provide the clinical oversight and judgment for the more complicated referrals because there are many subspecialties within departments.

For those receiving appointments, the PRS staff also provides guidance about financial concerns such as insurance coverage. “At the time of scheduling, we try to connect the patients to one of our Patient Financial Service specialists so they can begin the registration process and ask any questions to better understand what their insurance will cover,” said PRS Administrative Manager Patricia Desmond. “Having this information better enables patients to make informed decisions about where to receive care and avoid a delay in starting any necessary treatment.”

PRS staff members understand the patients’ and their family members’ need for compassion and support at a time when they often feel overwhelmed. “It’s important for them just to be able to talk to someone with knowledge about the type of cancer they have and who can assist them in determining how to proceed,” Ms. Desmond explained. “Even if they never come to Memorial Sloan Kettering for treatment, our specialists and nurses help patients and caregivers begin to feel more in control of their situation.”


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My daughter was recently diagnosed with melanoma in situ.
we are seeking a second opinion on her follow up care.
Is that type of service available?

Thank you

My sister is scheduled for pelvic exenteration surgery at Hershey Medical Center due to recurrent colon cancer. Hershey does not have the technology to place radiation at the tumor bed internally and I am concerned that the outcome will be compromised by this issue. They are also debating the possibility of being able to reconstruct her vagina due to the length of the surgery. I would like to have my sister get a second opinion at MSK but she is very connected with the doctors at Hershey. In particular, Dr. David Stuart will be the primary surgeon during her 15 hour procedure. How much will her outcome be influenced negatively if she cannot receive the internal radiation placement? She has already reached her maximum dose of external radiation.
Thank you,
Julia Holdren

Hi Julia, we are unable to provide advice or input about your sister’s treatment on our blog. But because she is about to undergo such a serious procedure, it sounds like a second opinion would be something to strongly consider, either at MSK or at another National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. If she would like to come to MSK, she can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information on making an appointment. For a list of other NCI-designated cancer centers, you can go to Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you and your sister.

A friend of mine from Greece has been diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma. Her tumor has been removed and She has been under various chemotherapy schemes however the disease recurred. She needs to get a second opinion and check if there are any trials at MSKCC that she could be eligible for. Please advice about the process she has to follow. Thanks, Anastasia

I am a survivor-patient. A friend's husband has had cancer return, go to the bone, and will be entering hospice. He is in pain. I wonder if you can refer them to any integrative medicine resources in the Hayward, WIS or Duluth area to consult? Thanks much.

Dear Diane, we’re very sorry to hear about your friend’s husband. We recommend that they discuss his options for pain relief with his current medical team. The hospice providers may also have suggestions for something that is in your area. Thank you for your comment.

My friend's husband has had a malignant biopsy result on a growth on his tongue. Can you please tell me what type of surgeon he will need? Please also refer the top 3 surgeons at your hospital.

Dear Christine, we’re sorry to hear about your friend’s husband. This type of tumor would be treated by a head-and-neck surgeon, and MSK has a number of experts in that area. You can see a list here:

If he would like to make an appointment, he can call 800-525-2225 or go to for more information. Thank you for your comment.

I live in Nevada and have received a diagnosis of DCIS and would like to consult with a doctor on follow on treatment, i.e., masectomy vs bilateral masectomy. I have been clean for 26 years having had a lumpectomy in 1993 followed by radiation, chemo and tamoxifen for breast cancer that had spread to 3 lymph nodes.

Dear Linda, we’re sorry to hear about your diagnosis. If you are interested in arranging a consultation with one of MSK’s doctors in the New York City-area, you can make an appointment online or call 800-525-2225 during regular business hours. If you are not able to travel to New York, you may want to consult with a breast cancer expert at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center that’s closer to you. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you.