Statistics from the American Board of Medical Specialties and the American Medical Association show there are approximately 472,560 primary care physicians and 518,128 specialist doctors in the United States. It translates to roughly 295 actively licensed professionals for every 100,000 Americans.
When searching for a specialist, most people revert to the age-old tradition of asking for references from family, friends, or the family practice doctor. It’s a common belief that if a doctor was excellent to a patient that we know, the physician would be the right fit for us too.
While it is an excellent way to find the ideal dermatology clinic, it’s essential to factor that every condition is unique in its manifestation to each patient. Treatments will vary on a case-to-case basis, and you may need to find the specialist with the best shot at cracking your case.
With hundreds of options to choose from, how do you go about picking the right fit? Here are some factors that you may need to keep in mind:
1. What Kind of Health Specialist Do You Need?
The first step in your search for the right medical care is to determine the specialist you require. It may take some effort on your part, conducting due diligence on the potential candidates to ensure that they are qualified to treat your condition.
The easiest way is to ask your general physician for references. In the event that a doctor was unable to find a concrete diagnosis for your symptoms, they would naturally refer you to an expert in the field, for example, orthodontists, if you have severe dental issues.
Most specialists have policies in place of not accepting patients that have not visited a general practitioner first. It helps both parties as the health expert does not ‘waste’ time on cases that primary care physicians can handle while the patients save on medical costs.
You may also read articles on your condition from credible websites. Finding out more information on your disease and possible treatment options can help you narrow down to specialists you wish to talk to about your symptoms. You can also easily discuss the treatment options that you would prefer. Look at alternative medicine options. You might find a trip to a massage therapist is more logical than heading to the doctor.
Remember, some conditions may have symptoms that fall under different specialties. For example, an orthopedist, rheumatologist, neurosurgeon, or a top physical therapist can all treat back pain, however who treats you will depend on what is causing the pain. A primary care physician can help you determine the source of the pain before referring you to the right specialist.
2. What Are Your Preferences as a Patient?
You may need to feel comfortable as you speak to your specialist physician about your personal injury. You may have a mental image of the ideal doctor for you. Do you feel more comfortable speaking to a female gynecologist over their male colleagues? Do you prefer a physician that speaks a specific language or affiliated with the same hospital as your primary physician?
The preferences are 100% yours, and you should own and stick to them. Do not feel guilty about continuing your search if you feel like a doctor was not who or what you expected. Incompatibility may result in communication issues during the treatment sessions.
Make a list of qualities that you would wish to see in your specialist. You may not have the luxury to find out more about the physician till you meet them in person. Book an appointment at their clinic and take time to find out if they are the right fit.
3. What’s the Physician’s Hospital Affiliation?
Some chronic conditions may require frequent hospitalizations that may affect your choice for a medical facility. Do you prefer an expert in the same hospital as your primary care physician? Does the medical center that they are affiliated with have the equipment and staff to handle your bone grafting surgery?
If you have any strong liking for a specific hospital (or disdain for another), you may need to keep the physician’s affiliation in mind before making your decision. Find out which specialists are affiliated with your preferred medical facilities. If you anticipate frequent hospitalizations, it would be prudent to select the hospital first before choosing the doctor.
4. What are the Doctor’s Credentials?
You may need to verify the educational qualifications and training to confirm their competency. Where did the physician attend medical school? Did they complete their coursework? Which fellowship program did they attend? Is the trichologist who will carry out your waxing board-certified?
Board certifications in most disciplines indicate the doctor has completed the regular four-year medical school program and an extra three to five years of residency, depending on the specialty. The specialist has to pass the board exam before receiving their certificate. Subspecialties may require more than two years of fellowship and then do well in a written exam.
5. Background Check
While certifications may not ascertain that the doctor will be great, they guarantee that the individual has received the requisite knowledge and education to diagnose your condition. There are additional checks that you may perform to verify their competency. The first stop is at the ABMS’ Certification Matters site.
The American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes over 40 specialties and 87 subspecialties. You can also get information about the physician’s background from the hospital’s site’s bio-data. What are their clinical interests? How long have they been in practice? Are there any complaints against the specialist? If a doctor was negligent to another patient, you could see the complaint’s status online.
6. Do Their Personality and Attitudes Align?
Chronic illnesses may force you to make regular trips to the specialist over your lifetime. If a doctor was to build a long-term relationship with you, you need to ensure that their attitude and personality align with yours. The doctor may end up having intimate knowledge of your life, sometimes more than your spouse does.
To assess the specialist’s personality, you may have to book an appointment. How did he or she respond to your questions and answers? Do they appear friendly and welcoming? A physician with an arrogant personality may make it difficult for you to receive the level of care that you need.
7. What’s Their Office Ambiance?
When a doctor was to attract more clients to their practice, they would ensure that every patient is comfortable during their stay at the office. As you attend your first appointment, it is advisable to look around and determine the ‘feel’ of the office.
The on-going care for your diabetes or cancer treatment may see you spend more time at the doctor’s office. Does the facility have the right equipment and tools to manage your condition? Are the floors and counters clean? Are the staff present at the office friendly and respectful? Pediatric doctors and specialists may invest in making their workplace attractive and fun for kids.
8. Do They Accept Your Insurance?
Consultancy services at medical specialists are rarely inexpensive. The costs may rise significantly, especially when managing chronic conditions. Most Americans turn towards their health insurance policies to help offset some of the costs.
The ideal position would be to find a specialist doctor that accepts your insurance. You can reach out to their office and inquire about the different payment plans that they take. An easy way is to contact your insurance agent to furnish you with a list of in-network physicians specializing in your condition.
Regarding the specialists’ availability and accessibility, the office location may be an essential factor to keep in mind. Based on whether you are comfortable traveling to and from the doctor’s practice, filter out any specialist that is not within your location.
Your insurance company can help you narrow down these options. You do not wish to stay in traffic for an hour each way to see your orthopedist every week. Picking a physician whose office is closer may be a better choice for your back.
10. Consult for Second Opinion
Booking an appointment with your preferred specialist doesn’t mean you can’t turn back. You may need to appraise your interaction with them. Find out if they were the right fit for you. Do you agree with their diagnosis or suggested course of action? Did you feel comfortable during your visit? Did the specialist answer your queries to your satisfaction?
If a doctor was not clear or you have any doubt about their preferred treatment plan, you can always seek an alternative opinion. You can move to another specialist for confirmation of the initial diagnosis. Most insurance companies may recommend that you seek a second opinion about certain elective procedures.
Red Flags That You Need to Look Out for During Your Search
While a doctor may have excellent education credentials and accepts your insurance, they may still not be the right fit for you. You may need to be alert to notice these discrepancies that can spell disaster for your health and treatment plan. Here are five warning signs that you need to be wary of.
‘The Maverick’-The Non-Conformist Doctor
Modern medical research and treatment options continue to evolve quickly, often leading to a ground-breaking solution to the diseases that plague humanity. While you need to find a doctor who continually reads on the latest therapies, you need to be wary of the outlier.
If the specialist distances themselves from the medical community often preferring their ‘proprietary’ solution, it is a massive red flag. The doctor you choose should appreciate the need for evidence-based and protocol-driven treatment plans. It not only guarantees your safety but also provide peace of mind about the outcome.
Ignores Your Replies
If a doctor was non-responsive during your visit, that would signify a massive problem with their communication skills. Some physicians may develop a rehearsed script of questions and may continue to type away as long as a response does not throw them off. Ignoring the small details of your answers during the examination may increase the risk of a wrong diagnosis. If the specialist doesn’t take time to listen to you effectively, it may be your cue to head out and find another physician.
Never Admits That They Do Not Know
Most patients expect that they will receive an instant prognosis of their condition after their first appointment with the specialist. This outward pressure may push some health experts to try and come up with explanations and answers to all of the patient’s questions. While it is vital to have realistic expectations of your encounter with the specialist, the doctor should also admit they do not know the answer if they are unsure about your condition.
The human body is an intricate system, and the medical discipline is highly complex. The doctor admitting he or she ‘does not know’ doesn’t make them incompetent. It means that they care about your health, and they recognize when they need to consult. A good doctor should continuously use their resources to refresh and add to their existing knowledge.
Complex Test Suggestions (Even for Little Problems)
Physicians, general and specialists alike, rely on a myriad of tests to accurately diagnose a patient. While your symptom may point towards a larger issue, you should always try to determine why you need a specific test. Ordering unnecessary tests from expensive equipment like MRI and Ultrasound can make it easier for a physician or their lab to squeeze out more cash from the insurance. If a doctor was not clear about the test’s purpose, seek a second opinion from another specialist.
It is a no-brainer. If a doctor was implicated in a medical malpractice case, you might need to stay clear. Find out from the state board the nature of the complaint and the outcome of the case. You can also dig deeper online to find out reviews about their clinic and staff. Remember, if a doctor was implicated in malpractice once they can always repeat it in the future.
At one point in life, you may need to enlist the service of a specialist doctor. You may need to remain vigilant during the selection process to ensure that you find a physician with the best shot at resolving your medical issue. Whenever in doubt, always seek a second opinion.