Seeking An Allergist’s Advice

Your doctor decided to call in an allergist, or you decided on your own to pursue this option. Now you’re in the market for a top-notch allergist. But what exactly qualifies an allergist as top-notch? Here are the qualities to look for in an allergist:

  • Training and experience with diagnosing and treating food allergies: This may seem like a “well, yeah, duh” recommendation, but many allergists are better trained to deal with general allergies, such as allergies to pollen or pets. Not all allergists are up to speed on food allergies, particularly in complicated cases.
  • Well-honed interpersonal skills: Some allergists are extremely bright and well-informed but have the interpersonal skills of a manikin or a personality that clashes with yours. They may take your concerns lightly, rush you through your visit without answering your questions, or have some other issues that make for a less than ideal fit.

Tracking down a local allergist who’s best qualified to diagnose and treat food allergies is a four-step process:

  1. Gather recommendations from your doctor, friends, and family.
  2. Ensure that your insurance policy covers the allergists on your list.
  3. Verify the allergist’s credentials.
  4. Check the allergist’s availability and make an appointment.

Your first recommendation typically comes from your GP. Your GP should be familiar with the allergists in your area, hopefully knows which allergists have expertise in food allergy, and may even know who would be the best fit from a style and personality standpoint. If your GP doesn’t recommend a suitable allergist or you want additional input, ask everyone you know and trust, especially friends and family members who’ve already seen an allergist.

Ask other doctors if you happen to know any. These people are often even more capable than your GP in helping you find the perfect doctor. If you’re in a food-allergy support group, which isn’t likely at this point because you’re just getting started, recommendations from fellow members are pure gold. People often change allergists later based on recommendations from other members of the group.

Now that you have a long list of candidates, you can start paring down your list by crossing off any allergists not covered on your insurance policy. To see if a particular doctor participates in your insurance network, do one of the following:

  • Call the doctor’s office, provide them with your insurance company’s name and the network you’re in (almost always printed on the health insurance card), and ask if the doctor is in your network. Most allergists participate with all the larger insurance companies, so your selection shouldn’t be overly limited.
  • Check the approved provider list supplied by your insurance company. Many insurance companies offer members a book of approved healthcare providers, typically grouping providers by location and specialty. If you don’t have such a book, request one. Your insurance company may also have a Web site where you can look up the names and contact information for allergists and other doctors and specialists in the company’s approved network.
  • As a last resort, try calling the company for additional information, especially if you lost or misplaced your approved provider list or it’s a couple years old. A newer list may contain the name of the allergist you want to see.

When your GP refers you to an allergist, ask about the allergist’s credentials and bedside manner to learn as much as possible about his training and experience. If your GP is less than forthcoming or you obtained a recommendation from someone who has little solid information, the following organizations can help you gather information and can even provide you with additional names if you’ve come up short after talking to your GP, friends, and family:

Other local medical societies may be able to provide additional recommendations. Rank the allergists on your list from first choice to last choice based on qualifications, reputation, and location, and then start calling around to make an appointment. Unfortunately, many allergists have a long waiting list, often several months. If you feel that you can’t wait that long, you may need to go with your second or third choice.

Still having trouble getting in to see the allergist? Here are some tips and tricks from seasoned patients:

  • Set up appointments with two or more allergists. When you finally get in to see one allergist, you can cancel the appointment(s) with the other(s). Don’t cancel unless you’re happy with the first allergist you see.
  • Ask your GP to call the allergist directly to see if she can fit you in sooner. Your doctors may agree that waiting until the next available appointment could be dangerous.
  • Ask to be placed on the allergist’s cancellation list. If a patient with a scheduled appointment calls to cancel, the allergist can give the appointment to you. My co-author, Joe, who works at home (that lucky dog), has had great success using this strategy to get his kids in to see their specialists.

After you see your allergist for the first time and assuming you’re happy with the allergist, don’t leave the office without setting up at least one appointment in advance. This can trim your wait time in the future. If you don’t need the appointment, cancel it a week or so in advance as a courtesy to other needy patients.

No matter what kind of healthcare issue you have, you get the best results when you team up with your doctor. To effectively team up with your allergist, here’s what you do:

  • Be open and honest. If you smoke or drink alcoholic beverages, for example, let your allergist know. If you have other health conditions, even if you think they’re unrelated, inform your allergist. This is no time to be hiding important details.
  • Write down any medications you’re currently taking. Although medications don’t typically trigger allergic reactions, they assist your allergist in painting a more accurate portrait of your condition, and your allergist needs to know of those medications in order to safely prescribe other medications.
  • Ask questions, even if they seem dumb to you, and express your concerns. Keep those lines of communication open.
  • Listen carefully to what your allergist says and follow her advice.
  • Keep in touch between appointments either over the phone or via e-mail, so your allergist is privy to any problems or questions that arise.
  • Work with your allergist to develop an emergency back-up plan, in writing, in the event that you experience a severe reaction.