Endocrinologist Visit Guide

The most common reason to see an endocrinologist is for one of the most common diseases in the world: diabetes mellitus. Endocrinologists are specialists who have studied the hormones that control the different functions of the body, including the hormones produced by the pancreas that help control blood sugar.

Some patients prefer to stay with their primary care physicians to manage their diabetes or other hormonal problems, but if your diabetes is serious or complicated, you might need to see an endocrinologist.

Endocrinology Explained

Endocrinology is the study of the glands that release hormones into the bloodstream to control specific body functions. These include the thyroid, parathyroid, pituitary, ovary, testis, pancreas, adrenal, and hypothalamus glands. Endocrinologists can diagnose and treat many different diseases, such as Graves’ disease, Cushing's disease, and hypothyroidism, but they are most commonly tapped for their expertise in treating diabetes.

Many endocrinologists also help couples with infertility, as they are experts in the hormones that control conception. They are also the doctors of choice for dealing with growth problems and certain forms of obesity.

When choosing an endocrinologist, it is important to know a particular doctor’s subspecialty so that you can match it to your needs.

What to Look For

In addition to knowing an endocrinologist’s subspecialty, you must know whether the doctor is accepted by your health insurance company. Some companies require a referral to a specialist from your primary doctor. This can get difficult if your primary doctor does not feel that you need to see an endocrinologist to manage your diabetes. It is important to advocate for yourself. If necessary, come prepared with notes, and talk frankly with your primary doctor about why you want to see an endocrinologist.

Once you have determined who you can see based on your insurance, you need to determine the quality of those doctors. Be sure to see a board-certified endocrinologist—this is a doctor who has been certified to practice in that niche by a medical specialty board. Ask your primary care doctor, family members, or friends for recommendations to endocrinologists they have worked with. The Internet can also provide details about a doctor's reputation. Simply typing a name into a search engine can bring back information on what other patients experienced. Issues such as doctor friendliness, wait time, and office staff competency are often rated by various websites. The American Medical Association, the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists might also be able to give you information on a doctor's background.

Questions to Ask

When you finally find an endocrinologist in the subspecialty you need who is approved by your insurance and board certified, you should still proceed with caution. You need to interview prospective doctors to find out if you will be comfortable working together. The Joslin Diabetes Center recommends that you find a doctor with whom you can build a trusting, long-term relationship. If you are going to an endocrinologist for your diabetes, you will have to share your eating goals, your weight struggles, and your mistakes. If you are afraid of your doctor's wrath or uncomfortable talking to him or her about how to manage your diabetes, the relationship will not be successful.

Ask prospective doctors about their philosophy on weight control and how they will help you to control your weight. Find out how closely they will want you to track your blood sugars and how tightly they want them controlled. Different doctors have different opinions on how low they want blood sugars to get, and you may not agree with someone’s philosophy.

You will also want to question prospective doctors about how often you will get to see them and how often you will see ancillary staff, such as nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants. These professionals are qualified to see you, but sometimes you might want to see your actual doctor. In the end, you need to ask enough questions to ensure that the doctor is someone you trust with your life because managing diabetes is a life or death issue.

Making Tough Decisions

Many primary care doctors feel they can handle diabetes. However, if you feel that your doctor is out of his or her depth or if your diabetes is out of control, then you owe it to your health to pursue a specialist. If you had cancer, you would not hesitate to use a specialist. Diabetes is just as serious and requires specialized attention.

Do not be afraid to dismiss a doctor. Remember that you have essentially hired him or her to do a job for you, and that involves taking the time to listen to your problems and providing you with sound solutions. If a doctor ignores you or your concerns, it is time to make the tough decision to find another practitioner.