Written by Amy Roper (last updated August 9, 2012)
When a health problem comes up that your primary care doctor is not equipped to handle, it can be a scary experience. It can also be a logistical nightmare: Where do you begin? What if you don't find someone who can help you and who you feel comfortable with? The good news is that today there is a wide variety of qualified specialty doctors that can help you. While this means that you will have to do some research up front, it also means you can afford to be picky and choose someone who really works for you. Remember that you are paying the doctor to work for you; you want someone who fits your wants and needs.
Start by figuring out what it is you want in a specialty doctor. Make a list of your preferences: Do you want someone who is traditional or innovative, a man or woman? Is it important to you that the doctor be older or are you okay with a doctor that is younger than you? Do you want them to have a specific educational background? From here, prioritize and note which things you will not compromise, which you could compromise if you needed to, and things that probably don't matter to you. Keep this list in mind as you doctor shop and remember that your doctor is someone you should feel comfortable with.
Next talk to your primary care provider, he or she will probably have recommendations. Depending on your insurance provider, you may need a referral to be covered by insurance. Ask for recommendations from family and friends, who also have your best interest in mind. You can also start your own search through online and phone directories; call around to get a variety of information to choose from.
Once you have found one or a few doctors you're interested in, research their credentials. Where did they go to medical school? Are they involved in academic pursuits like writing, publishing, and teaching? Are they up to date on the latest treatments? How specialized and experienced are they with your particular condition/symptoms? Are there any malpractice issues on their track record? You can find most of this information online.
Once you have narrowed down your options to one person, plan an initial consultation with him or her. You can still switch if things don't go well. At your visit, make sure you communicate everything to make sure you are a compatible match. During this consultation pay attention to the doctor's communication skills. Notice if he or she is matching up to your preference list. You may also want to check how busy the doctor is and how easy it will be for you to make future appointments if your schedule is less flexible. If the doctor satisfactorily meets your criteria, go forward with more visits.
Finding a specialty doctor can take some time, but finding a good one will ultimately help you heal the best. Remember that at any time you can ask for second opinions or go with someone else if you don't feel the doctor is meeting your needs.
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