How do you know your specialist is qualified to treat you?

November 11, 2014 in Personalized Healthcare  •  By Miles Varn
Qualified medical specialist

Typically, you can rely on your primary care doctor to attend to most of your medical needs, whether you have the flu, need to monitor cholesterol levels or have to manage a chronic disease such as asthma or osteoarthritis. However, if you’ve been diagnosed with a serious or complex medical condition, such as cancer, or you need to undergo surgery, you should consult an experienced specialist. A specialist who treats your specific diagnosis will provide an opinion that either confirms or changes the diagnosis and treatment plan of your original doctor. More importantly, that opinion will be based upon experience, thought leadership and dedicated training.

If you need a specialist, you want to make sure he or she is qualified to provide the care you need. But do you know which questions to ask?

Experience matters
To find a specialist who has experience treating your condition, you need to do research. A good place to start is a hospital that’s designated as a Medical Center of Excellence (COE), which means it’s globally recognized for innovative healthcare research and positive patient outcomes. Once you find a COE that offers the care you need, read about the physicians who work there and try to find out all you can about them:

  • Where did they go to school?
  • Where did they do their fellowship?
  • Do they edit any medical journals?
  • Are they members of any medical associations or societies?
  • What’s the volume of cases similar to yours that they’ve worked with?
  • How experienced are they treating cases like yours?

If you don’t live near a COE or you prefer to be treated locally, it’s still important to travel for a second opinion and treatment plan that can be implemented on a local basis. In addition, some COEs offer paid “virtual” second opinions without the need to travel.

When our research team at PinnacleCare gets involved in a case, we look at factors such as publications, research, national leadership and associations that can be difficult to find if you don’t know where to search. We have a great deal of in-depth, current information derived in part from our objective research, but also from the feedback of our renowned medical advisory board and our large nationwide network of top doctors. This unique approach leads to identification of the most knowledgeable and experienced physicians treating your specific condition. This process can be especially valuable when it comes to diagnoses that are rare, serious or complex. You want a specialist who has seen a sufficient volume of cases similar to yours to make sure he or she has the necessary expertise.

We worked with an older client in Texas who came to us for help with a muscle-wasting disease that had no known cause. Eventually, we realized that we may never find an answer for his diagnosis, but because of our physician networking, we were able to connect him with a specialist at a children’s rehab hospital in Baltimore. Because they have dedicated expertise in treating muscular dystrophy, they also see adults who have unique cases similar to our client. With the help of their expertise and genetic testing to refine the diagnosis, he was given an individualized plan to help maintain muscle strength and function. It’s likely that he may never have found this specialist or an effective treatment plan without our help.

It’s definitely feasible to find a specialist on your own through objective research and personal queries with individual practitioners. However, if you want help with this process, our team of health advisors at PinnacleCare is happy to find out which providers have the most experience with your condition, vet their credentials and work with your personal preferences for treatment.