Betsy Wadland: Look for something 'special' when treating a condition

Betsy Wadland

I don't know many women who go to the barber to get their hair cut. I never see teenagers shopping at Brooks Brothers. I take my car to the mechanic to get it fixed, not the appliance store.

We seek out people who meet our specific needs. The same holds true for health care. We see a cardiologist to make sure our heart is healthy; we go to the ophthalmologist to check our eyes; and our dentist takes care of our teeth.

Colleen Gallagher, a clinical nurse manager and director of Special Programs at the Natick (Mass.) VNA, is no stranger to specialization in the medical field.

"You need to follow your passion. If that means you love to climb mountains, go for it. As for me, I love to ease people's pain and know that I had a part in helping them to feel better," she says.

For people with specific medical diagnoses, Gallagher recommends seeking out medical professionals who specialize in that area. For example, to successfully manage diabetes, a person needs to assemble a team of people who can provide care, give advice and recommend treatment plans specific to that disease. This group of professionals may include doctors (primary care physicians, endocrinologists, an optometrist, a podiatrist), a diabetes nurse educator, a registered dietician, a social worker or a therapist and even an exercise physiologist. These folks have the interest, experience and special training necessary to help people with diabetes take control of their disease and live life to the fullest.

The same holds true for people with asthma, cardiac disease and cancer. Regardless of the disease, there are some basic questions to ask professionals when you are looking to assemble your team:

- Do you have any special training in caring for patients with my disease?

- How many people have you/do you care for with my disease?

- What tests will you do on a regular basis?

- What days do you see patients? On days when you are not here, who covers for you?

- What are your fees? Do you accept my insurance?

- Do you work with other professionals who specialize in my disease?

"It's also important to have a good rapport with your team," says Gallagher. "You need to completely trust these folks and feel comfortable enough to have open and honest conversations with them at all times."

Even your home health care provider may have clinical staff that specializes in certain diseases. Many focus on geriatrics or pediatrics, pain management, diabetes, palliative care or hospice.

The National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Care Nurses states that "certification validates an individual nurse's competence and knowledge ... it is highly valued and provides formal recognition of having achieved a standard of knowledge."

In other words, certified professionals have shown an interest and aptitude in a certain area of care, have studied and gained experience and have proved by passing an exam that they have expert knowledge in that area.

So unless you're one to call the plumber when your garage door isn't working or the electrician when you need to fill the oil tank, think about the team you need to support you in living with a chronic illness. There are medical professionals out there who are ready and waiting to help you manage your disease, access the best treatments available and live your life to its fullest.

Betsy Wadland is director of development for the Natick (Mass.) VNA, a nonprofit health care organization providing home care to thousands of people each year. For more information, call the Natick VNA at 508-653-3081.

MetroWest Daily News