Living With Polio

What’s a Patient to Do?

Nancy Baldwin Carter, BA, M Ed Psych, Omaha, Nebraska, is a polio survivor, a writer, and is founder and former director of Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.

Let’s say we’re doctor-shopping. Maybe we’ve moved to a new city or our long-time doc is retiring—for whatever reason, we need a different doctor. Question is—where to start? How to choose?

We all want the best. Someone who knows what he’s doing, who can get the diagnosis right. Someone reliable, respectful, trustworthy. We want more than a good listener—we want a doc who understands, who acknowledges that our concern is real. We realize not all physicians have special post-polio expertise—still, the best are curious, interested. They don’t miss a beat. They ask all the right questions, answer every one of ours as fully as possible—and they keep searching. How do we find this special person?

Top of the list? Check qualifications. Here’s some great advice: Start with Board Certification.

This one’s important. While being licensed to practice medicine assures that a doctor holds certain minimum requirements, board certification goes way beyond this. Doctors who choose to be board certified do so voluntarily to demonstrate skill in their particular area of practice. While every specialty and subspecialty has its own certification, some boards may not be very exacting. Clearly, some are better than others. What we must look for, then, is board certification that has been approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).

The ABMS carries out a rigorous standard of testing and evaluation. In addition to strict initial certification, doctors must go through a recertification process every six to 10 years. They must also keep their certification current with the ABMS Maintenance of Certification (MOC) program, which requires more testing and proof of continuing education and experience throughout their period of certification.

How can we learn that a doctor is board certified with ABMS approval? One place is It’s easy. Go there. Enter your doc’s name. Details pop up before your eyes. His specialties are listed, and if he’s board certified, a mark following each of these indicates ABMS approval. (If your doctor is not specified here, try

Beyond certification, notice the state where the doc is licensed; details concerning his education; and a background check that shows any malpractice, sanction history, and board action history in the past five years. General guides. This is good stuff.

Maybe not so reliable are patient evaluations. While the criteria rated can be of interest, this may be biased, bearing no resemblance to accuracy. It’s merely one patient’s word.

Other things can make a difference, too. Ever notice the initials after doctors’ names? Does it matter whether the amorphous “Dr.” Mary Smith diagnoses my underventilation, or whether this is left to Mary Smith, M.D.? Better yet, could I feel even more secure if my pulmonary problem were in the hands of Mary Smith, M.D., FCCP? Education, staying current, searching for excellence, earning the best credentials—all of this matters.

Even so, looking good on paper isn’t all there is. What else counts?

Our interaction with the doctor, for one thing. If we’ve done our part—handed her the list of our meds, our allergies, and a complete history, discussed every issue we meant to, asked every question and open-mindedly heard every response—we can begin to assess the situation. Are the two of us developing a healthy rapport? Are we becoming partners in pursuit of wellness?

These days we expect doctors to believe us when we say we have a problem. We expect them to search in every direction for answers, to keep at it until we find relief.

If this doesn’t happen, we move on. No need to pull out the voodoo doll. Simply get a second opinion, find another doctor. Ask around for referrals—and then begin, again, by checking qualifications. Remember—we deserve the best.

All columns originally published by Post-Polio Health International (

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