Whether you are trying to confirm a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease or need to work with a doctor to manage your condition, it is essential that you find a doctor you feel comfortable with and trust.
If you have any questions about your diagnosis, be sure to seek a second opinion. A good doctor will respect your desire to learn as much as you can about your condition rather than feeling threatened by your decision to speak with another physician.
Don’t be afraid of telling a doctor, “You’re fired!” You want a doctor who will be your advocate and who will care about you. If you have any reservations about the doctor you’re seeing, it’s time to find another doctor.
You will want to establish a team of caregivers, possibly including:
- A general practitioner, who will address your overall health care
- A neurologist, who will manage your Parkinson’s disease
- A movement-disorders specialist if your neurologist doesn’t have experience in this field
- A physical therapist, who will help you develop an exercise program and find ways of meeting your specific physical challenges
- An expert on complementary or natural medicine, who will be able to recommend nutritional supplements, diet plans, herbs, exercise, and other parts of a balanced health regimen that may not be covered by a traditional physician
- A good pharmacist, one who is willing to answer your questions and knows about possible drug interactions.
With all of your health-care providers—but especially your neurologist—look for someone with experience treating Parkinson’s patients. While we would all prefer to be seen regularly by a seasoned movement-disorders specialist who is familiar with the latest research on PD, that is not always possible.
I have both a local neurologist, whom I see every six weeks or so, and a movement-disorders specialist, whom I see two or three times a year. (It’s a blessing that I don’t need to see the movement-disorders specialist more often since his office is two hours from my home.)
There is an adage in the Parkinson’s community: “When you’ve seen one Parkinson’s patient, you’ve seen one Parkinson’s patient.” That’s because each of us presents a unique combination of symptoms and sensitivities: we respond to medications differently, our symptoms progress at different speeds, we expect different levels of performance from our bodies.
A doctor with experience treating a number of Parkinson’s patients stands a better chance of understanding what you are going through and how he or she can help you. Early in the course of your illness, you should expect to see your neurologist every six to eight weeks. If a neurologist hands you a prescription and says, “See me in four months,” find another neurologist. I still see my neurologist every six weeks, and I have had Parkinson’s for almost seven years; I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Start your search by collecting names of physicians in your area. Ask friends and relatives for suggestions. You might also contact a local or regional Parkinson’s center and ask for a referral. You may want to check the “Physician Select” service at the American Medical Association’s website: www.amaassn.org. This site can give you lists of doctors by specialty who practice in your area.
Another option is the website run by the Administrators in Medicine, a group of state medical board directors, at www.docboard.org/docfinder.html. This site includes physician lists from the American Board of Medical Specialties, state medical and osteopathic boards of directors, and the National Board of Medical Examiners, among others.
Many health insurance plans can provide lists of specialists who participate in your plan. Check your policy to determine whether you will need to restrict your search to doctors on an approved list.
Before choosing a physician, set up an interview or an initial appointment to assess how you feel about the doctor. Because Parkinson’s medications need to be adjusted with some regularity, you will develop an ongoing relationship with your neurologist, so you want to be sure you find someone you like.