I have been blessed to have a wonderful team of doctors treating my chronic illness for twelve years now.
But last fall, Mayo Clinic decided to drop some of the Medicare Advantage plans they were accepting. You can’t blame them, the government has made it downright difficult to make any money when treating these patients. The rules kept adding up until they could only do one thing… drop the patients.
It was a bittersweet situation for me. On the one hand, Mayo Clinic is an amazing place to be treated. I had two excellent doctors that I preferred to keep around. On the other hand, Mayo Clinic is a two-hour drive. And it was becoming quite an ordeal to arise early, drive 2.5 hours, get my procedures and doctor visits in, and then drive home. It took us a good day and a half to recover from the day.
We had already been discussing the idea that we really needed to find new doctors. But nonetheless, I was saddened to leave behind my wonderful doctors. It turned out it was not an easy feat to find new doctors.
Finding a Rheumatologist
I began immediately looking for a rheumatologist, as I needed a follow-up appointment for managing my chronic pain. Rheumatologists are few and far between, especially if you want a good one. I started with my PCP, asking her for a referral. After trying two different doctors, One agreed to see me but his office was 2 hours away. I thought that I would like one closer since that was a good reason for my finding new doctors.
I did some digging on my own and found a rheumatologist only one hour away. I called his office personally and they agreed to see me since I was coming from Mayo Clinic. Normally, they weren’t accepting new patients who lived in a different county.
This turned out to be a good pick for me. He was very personable and concerned about my level of pain. He wants to change some things around to help me reduce all the medications I am taking without increasing pain.
Finding a Pain Specialist
My pain specialist was a different story. I was receiving occipital nerve blocks at Mayo Clinic. This is an injection that places a long needle into your neck alongside the nerve up toward the brain stem. He uses ultrasound to guide the needle in the right place. Dr. Hurdle has been doing mine every 9 months since 2013. He does them well with minimal pain. He is definitely an expert and often travels the world teaching other doctors to do this. I love him so much, I offered to be his “human subject volunteer.” 🙂
I have heard that these procedures can be quite painful so I didn’t want just anyone doing this. I talked with the assistant at Mayo Clinic to see if they could refer me to someone. While they couldn’t send a referral perse, they did give me the name of a pain clinic that might be able to help.
Pain Specialist #1
It turned out that this pain clinic just opened an office near me, they looked at my records and were happy to take me on as a patient. My husband and I met with him. We liked him but he did the nerve block with X-ray-guided assistance. When I read about it, it sounded like a longer procedure with several injections involved.
I had also taken a fall in the meantime and they wanted to get a nerve conduction test and be seen by a neurologist first. I decided to keep looking. I sent another note to the Mayo Pain Clinic asking if they knew of anyone within Georgia that did the ultra-sound guided block. He responded that he had a friend in my city but he wasn’t sure which procedure he used. So I had all my referral records sent to him.
Pain Specialist #2
It turned out that he too does the x-ray-guided procedure, but he took the time to explain it all. I learned that the x-ray was live. I decided I could not wait much longer to get the block, so I agreed to go forward with the nerve block with him. He was also affiliated with the orthopedic group that I use, so I was happy with that as well. I’ll write about the nerve block another time.
Questions for Finding the Right Rheumatologist
It’s very important to be sure you find the right doctor for you. In my case, finding someone who understands chronic pain is vitally important. So what are the questions one should ask when searching for the best doctor? Here are a few:
- What experience and training do you have in managing fibromyalgia and RA? There are still doctors that feel that chronic pain is “all in your head”. You will be wise to find someone who is more compassionate about your pain.
- How do you approach the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions?
- What are the potential side effects of the medications you may prescribe, and how will they interact with any other medications or supplements that I am taking?
- Are there any lifestyle changes or non-medication treatments that I can pursue to help manage my symptoms?
- How often will I need to see you for follow-up appointments, and what should I expect during those appointments?
- How will we communicate outside of appointments if I have questions or concerns about my treatment? It’s advantageous to me to have a patient portal where I can leave messages. But be sure that your doctor’s office actually checks and answers them.
- Do you work with other healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists or pain specialists, to provide comprehensive care for fibromyalgia and RA patients?
- Are there any clinical trials or research studies related to fibromyalgia or RA that I may be eligible for?
These are just a few examples of questions that you may want to ask a potential rheumatologist. Ultimately, it’s important to find a healthcare provider who you feel comfortable with and who takes the time to answer your questions and address your concerns.
Finding a Pain Specialist
Many of the same types of questions are needed for your pain specialist. As I did, ask about the specific procedure you are hoping to get. Here are a few more questions:
- Are there any non-pharmacological approaches to managing my pain that you recommend?
- Are there any clinical trials or research studies related to my type of pain that I may be eligible for?
- How do you work with other healthcare professionals, such as my primary care doctor or other specialists, to coordinate my care?
Finding a PCP
These same questions are important for asking your PCP as well. If your PCP will not work with you and help you find the right specialist, you will be worse off. Consumer Reports has a great article for finding your PCP which is your key to healthy success. How to Find a Good Doctor – Consumer Reports
I hope this is helpful for your if you are in the position of needing to find new doctors.
Pastor’s Wife (retired) & Chronic Pain Warrior blogs about how to make it through anything by relating her own life experiences to her writing. She is passionate about her love for the Lord and desires to spread that passion to others. She has a great desire to encourage women who are following behind her.
One Comment on “The Formidable Challenge of Finding the Right New Doctor”
Thanks for this great info once again, dear Mandy! It is such a difficult journey to find new Doctors. We’ve been on that same journey. I’m so glad you’ve finally connected with a good team! May the Lord keep guiding us both along His best way for us. I’m praying for you today!