When it comes to chronic pain of any kind – whether it’s in your spine or elsewhere on your body – the road to eliminating it is paved with desperation for some people. Chronic pain robs many people of the ability to live life normally, and the understandable but fervent desire to get rid of the pain can be a breeding ground for less-than-optimal treatment decisions. Today, there are many “providers” who say they treat back pain. How do you know which one is right for you? Here are some tips on the qualities to look for in a healthcare provider to treat your pain.
An Available Expert – What is the experience like out of the gate when you try to book an appointment and is the process to schedule an appointment simple enough to navigate? If this provider is scheduling months out and you’re waiting hours to see them once your appointment date is set, it may be time to consider another provider. You should evaluate the office staff and medical personnel too since you’ll be interacting most frequently with these folks for any given visit. Are they nice? Helpful? Knowledgeable? These are characteristics that anyone should expect from their doctors and the people who work for them. Making sure the process of paying a visit to the provider is relatively seamless and as close to a pleasant experience as possible can help you ensure you keep your follow-up appointments in the future.
An Excellent Listener – One characteristic that has been historically overlooked in previous generations of healthcare providers but is essential today, is the doctor’s ability to listen to your concerns actively. If you’ve waited forever to see this provider and they’ve given you five minutes of consultation, much of which was spent typing into your medical record versus looking at you, you may want to think more about whether this is the right provider for you. Physicians are undoubtedly busy. However, I guarantee you that the most important time spent in a day is with our patients. If we don’t provide the time and environment necessary for them to paint us a complete picture of their overall health, we won’t be able to help them fully maximize it. It’s best to go with the provider who puts down the chart or steps away from the computer to actively engage in a dialogue with you about the back pain you’re experiencing.
A Spine Specialist – Medicine today includes a plethora of sub-specialties, and for a good reason. Research has indicated that the more specialized a doctor is in their particular area of medicine, the more skilled he or she tends to be and the better the outcomes are for his/her patients. When it comes to chronic back pain and depending on the diagnosis of what is causing it, choosing a doctor who specializes in the care and treatment of the spine is critical. If you’re seeking consultation with an orthopedic surgeon, make sure he or she has specialty training and experience in conditions affecting the spine. Also, if you are considering surgery to treat the underlying problem that is causing the pain, you may want to look for a spine specialist who has additional fellowship training and expertise in minimally-invasive techniques for your specific condition. Even if surgery isn’t on the table and a more holistic approach is what you want to try first, look for a provider who is certified by a reputable organization, is highly trained and experienced and has expertise in the management of back pain.
A Savvy Student – No matter whether the physician you’re considering is 10 or 30 years out of medical school, make sure that you have access to something called a Curriculum Vitae (CV) about them. A CV is the equivalent of a resume, and it can paint a picture of how “with it” that doctor is regarding advances in medicine. For example, the treatment approach a medical student was taught for any particular spine condition 30 years ago may have advanced since then, and you want to make sure that he or she is keeping pace. What you’ll want to look for in the CV are things like current conferences the physician has attended and any new continuing education they’ve received. Even better would be whether they have directly provided instruction or training to other physicians in their field through conference presentations, involvement in research studies or writing of journal articles or textbook chapters on back pain and the treatment of spinal conditions.
An Adaptable Aggressor – When it comes to back pain treatment, I know it can seem like more aggressive treatment will solve your chronic pain problems. However, that isn’t entirely true, at least not initially. The solution a provider recommends to you has to address the underlying cause of the condition that is resulting in the back pain. If this is your initial visit to a doctor about your concerns and an invasive treatment is the first approach recommended for treating it, this could be a cause for concern in some cases. For the most part, what you want to look for instead is a provider who will evaluate your condition over time, having you try the most conservative options for managing your pain first. But, they’ve got to stay on top of it by aggressively monitoring how these approaches are progressing. If the pain isn’t getting better or it’s getting worse, you want a doctor who is adaptable and can switch gears when necessary.
Perhaps more than ever in health care, patients have now come to expect a superior level of service and attention from their physicians. However, what remains true is that they deserve it. So when it comes to back pain or any other health condition, you shouldn’t lower your standards. Keep expectations high and hold out for the best provider for you – doing so will also likely mean that you’ll hold yourself accountable for following their prescribed treatments because you inherently trust in them. That’s a win for both of you.