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How does a parent go about choosing a specialist doctor? Yes I have the pediatricians recommendations. However, usually I would also ask friends, however the specialist I need to see is not a popular one so I am not sure how to trust the person I see. Is the internet a good source of information about Doctors? Where else can I get Doctor evaluations?

As well, on a similar note, how do I evaluate the advice of a doctor? Must I seek a second opinion or is research on the internet enough?

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5 Answers

If you trust your current pediatrician, they can likely give you good referrals to local specialists.

IMO the best recommendations come from health care professionals, particularly when they are not "working" for you. Do you have any friends or family members who are nurses or doctors? Ask them who they would go to; even if they don't know the specialists you need they may be willing to ask around at work or among the people they know. While this approach is a pretty subjective, the best doctors will have reputations (particularly in their field) that many of their colleagues will know about; the same thing can be said for particularly bad doctors (the nurses/doctors all probably know they are bad).

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We see LOTS of specialists for our kids (ENTs, Allergist, Podiatrist, and Pediatric ophthalmologist). There are a few things we've figured out that work for us personally as we've evaluated out options.

1). How long is your child going to need to see this doctor? We were less selective about the doc who put in our daughter's ear tubes who was only going to see her a handful of times, and incredibly more selective about her ophthalmologist who we see roughly every three months and will continue to see frequently for the next 18 years or so. This doesn't mean that we just let any random doc put tubes in her ears, but there are personality quirks that I can overlook in a doctor that we only have to deal with a couple of times that I can't overlook in one that I have to deal with more often. 2). Relatedly, what level of support are you expecting from the doc/his staff? Some docs are great, but their staff is the pits. Clearly this is something you can't really evaluate until you actually see the doctor, but a lot of times you can learn a lot from the person who answers the phone when you call to make the appointment. Are they friendly and professional? Did they answer your questions to the best of their ability? Were they helpful in general?
3). Do your research online! Most specialists are associated with university hospitals. Track down their info! Have they published anything recently? Are they currently involved in any research? What are their credentials? How long have they been practicing? If you can't find that info online, don't be afraid to call the doc's office and ask them! If they can't/won't give you that information, then you probably don't want to use that doctor. 4). Asking your ped is great if you live in a smaller city or your option of specialists is limited. When we lived in Knoxville, there were two POs in the city and they were in the same practice. Our options were limited and we went with the one who had been practicing longer and had more experience. Now that we live in a more metropolitan area, there is no shortage of specialists and our docs don't frequently have anymore insight into specialists than we do. 5). Other things to consider: How far away is his/her office? Does he/she have satellite offices? Are they the only doc in their practice or do they work with other docs(an incredibly important point if your child ever needs to be seen in a spur-of-the-moment situation and your doc is out of town/working out of another office/etc.). Are these other docs also accepted by your insurance? 6) At what hospitals does the doctor have privileges in the event your child needs surgery?

As for evaluating the advice of the specialist you see, that's where you have to do some research in your own. When our daughter received her first pair of contact lenses, they were silicon and we did not know that really the gold standard in visual rehab is rigid gas permeable lenses. Once we did some research on our own, we found several studies indicating our need to change and we did. But I wish I'd known that earlier. This also gives you a jumping-off point in discussing your daughter's condition with the doctor. If you've read about X procedure and doc recommends Y procedure, then you can discuss that. They may have perfectly good reasons for what they do or not.

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Pick a doctor you like. If you don't like the current one, get another one. Second opinions never hurt, though one can assume a specialist is at least well versed in their particular specialty.

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You could try asking on Facebook. I've found a few good doctors that way, although it may not work as well for a less common specialty. There are also usually Mom forums in the bigger cities where you can ask for recommendations of doctors.

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We always start and end with personal recommendations, but you're right that doing so can be difficult to get for specialities.

Read their biography on the hospital web site. How does it compare to their peers on the same staff? Does your pediatrician know the other doc, or just their reputation? Can your pediatrician comment on the facility as a whole?

Who are they affiliated with: a university, and/or a big hospital, or just private practice?

Hit the web and search out their names. Do you find recent publications (indicating current skills), or participation in conferences/education, or any articles discussing charity work?

Last, ask your pediatrician for multiple names, and have an initial meeting with more than one of them. It's your child's health, so feel free to shop around as long as you have time: we got the name of a dermatologist, but they weren't taking new patients so we got someone else in the same practice. Well, we didn't like them, but then we found a third doctor who we got along with well and who gave us sound advice with clear explanations. It's hard and can take extra time, but it's worth it to meet a few people before choosing.

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