Let's face it, chronic back pain is no fun at all. And although most people will suffer from it at some point in their lives, that statistic offers little comfort to the woman who's currently feeling hopeless and wondering where she can turn for some sound advice and relief. So if you're facing the challenge of what seems like a never ending cycle of pain in your back, here are some tips on the type of healthcare provider to look for when you want to banish back pain once and for all.
An Accessible Provider – First and foremost, if you're having trouble booking an appointment, then waiting hours to see the doctor once you've got it, perhaps this isn't the doctor for you. This goes for the office staff too. Are they compassionate? Helpful? Knowledgeable? These are traits that patients should expect from their physicians and the people they employ. Depending on your condition and over the course of your chosen treatment, you may have several appointments wherein you'll be interacting with a doctor's staff as much as you will with the doctor. Making sure this process is relatively seamless and an overall pleasant experience ensures that you'll keep your appointments and stick with the course of treatment you've been prescribed.
A Good Listener – What goes hand-in-hand with accessibility is an assessment of the physician's ability to listen, really listen to your concerns. If you've waited a long time to see this person and they provide you five minutes of time, most of which is spent staring at the chart you've written your information on, you may want to consider another provider. As physicians, and depending upon our specialties, we're a busy bunch. But our most important time spent in a day is with our patients. If we don't allow them to give us a complete picture of their overall health, we can't help them effectively maximize it. It’s best to go with the doctor who puts down the chart and actively listens to what's going on with you. You'll both be better for it.
A Specialist's Specialist – Today, there are many sub-specialty categories in medicine. And with good reason. Studies have shown that the more focused a doctor is in any particular area of medicine, the more skilled he or she is in that field and the better the outcomes are for his/her patients. When it comes to back pain, and depending on your diagnosis, choosing a doctor who specializes in the spine is critical. If it is an orthopedic surgeon you seek, make sure he or she has specialty training in conditions that affect the spine. Additionally, if you've been told you need surgery, perhaps you'll want to seek out an orthopedic spine specialist who has additional expertise and focus in minimally-invasive techniques for your specific condition. It is important that you seek a spine specialist who is spine fellowship trained If a more holistic approach is what you want to try first, look for someone who is certified by a reputable organization and be sure they too have a focus on the management of back pain.
A Life-Long Learner – Whether the physician you're evaluating went to medical school three or 30 years ago, make sure that you have access to something called a Curriculum Vitae (CV) on them. That's just a fancy term for resume, but it can give you a great picture of how "in touch" that doctor stays with advances in medicine. The techniques one physician was taught for any particular back pain condition 30 years ago have almost certainly advanced since that time and you want to make sure that he or she is keeping pace. The information you want to look for in the CV includes current conferences the physician has attended, any current continuing education they've received and better yet – whether they themselves have provided education to other physicians in their field by way of presenting at conferences, conducting research studies and/or authoring journal articles and textbook chapters on spinal conditions.
A Conservative Aggressive – I know it sounds like a contradiction. Someone who takes a conservative approach to things is rarely called aggressive, but in medicine, certainly when it comes to back pain, a ‘Conservative Aggressive’ can be just the type of provider you're looking for. Here's why: If this is your first visit to a provider about your back pain, jumping to the notion you need surgery tomorrow should raise some red flags. What you really want is someone who will assess your condition over some period of time, trying the least invasive and disruptive approaches to managing your back pain first. But you also want him or her to stay on top of it too. That's where the aggressive part comes in. While you first want a physician to employ the most conservative methods in back pain treatment, you should also want them to aggressively monitor progress. If the pain isn't getting better or it's getting worse, you want a doctor who can switch gears for you sooner rather than later.
Now more than ever, patients have come to expect and rightfully deserve a high level of service and care from their physicians. Especially when it comes to back pain, don't let your standards waver. When you keep expectations high, you find better providers and you also more often hold yourself accountable to following their prescribed treatments because you inherently trust in them. That's a win-win for you and the doctor.