So you know that you need to see a consultant. OK – but what next? The rise of patient choice has been a good thing for the healthcare industry. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the right doctor for your own particular needs. So how should you approach it? Here are six things that, I think, can help.
Phone a friend!
(Or a friend-of-a-friend.) When it comes to decision-making, there’s nothing quite like a personal endorsement. One recent survey found that around 80% of diners base their restaurant choices on word-of-mouth tips. And if finding the right pizza is important, how much more a medical consultation? So ask around. Have friends faced the same issue recently? Were they happy with their treatment? Would they use the same consultant again? Your GP is an important source of advice, too. They will be familiar with surgeons in your area through correspondence and feedback. They may not have been in the clinic or theatre with them, but they’ll know their reputation.
However you feel about the Internet, its impact on choice has been seismic. Now we don’t have to fish around endlessly for information about doctors. We can find it with a few clicks. Independent review sites like iWantGreatCare can give real insight into consultants from former patients (here’s my page as an example). Read a few and you soon get a sense of that person’s strengths. Complement the reviews by visiting their personal website, if they have one, or by visiting the National Joint Registry , a government-endorsed site that collects key data about hip, knee, ankle, elbow and shoulder joint replacement surgery and implant performance.
If you’re facing surgery, where will your operation take place? Hospital quality isn’t always the first thing that springs to mind when searching for a consultant. But it’s important for your overall care. Once you’ve learned where a consultant is based, you can find out more about the hospitals they work in. A useful resource for the private sector is the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), a government-mandated organisation that collates information and customer satisfaction for hospitals across the UK.
Look for responsiveness
You should always feel comfortable making first contact with a consultant. And I think you can gather some insight from their reply. Do they respond to your questions clearly and promptly? A swift, helpful reply is part of what it means to provide a good service. But it also suggests a consultant who values your time and – hopefully – takes an interest in you and is motivated to help you get better.
Check for experience
You can find out how practised a consultant is simply by asking them. If they’ve performed a particular operation several thousand times before, for example, it’s likely to be a good, successful procedure. But they should be able to expertly judge your suitability for an operation, too. Timing is important in surgery. If a consultant thinks it would be better to wait and use non-surgical alternatives, they need to say so. That kind of decision comes with experience – experience of both conservative and operative care.
This could go right to the top of our list. But let’s end with it here to reinforce the point. Trust is so important when it comes to medical advice, because that doctor is taking your future in their hands. So make sure he or she is a good listener. Someone who will sit down with you and answer your questions and concerns. Many fears and anxieties can be allayed by clear communication. And having a rapport with your consultant helps achieve that. At the end of the day, you’re not a statistic – you’re a person! So make sure your consultant is someone you feel comfortable with.