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10 Things to Know About Thyroid Doctors

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Updated May 30, 2014

10 Things to Know About Thyroid Doctors
Finding and working with the right doctor is a crucial part of living well with thyroid disease. Here are ten things to know about thyroid doctors and the practitioners you choose to care for your thyroid health.

1. It can be complicated to decide on a type of practitioner for your thyroid care.

The process of deciding what types of practitioners to see for your thyroid diagnosis and care can be complicated and even daunting. In some cases, the initial suspicions of, diagnosis of or treatment of a thyroid condition may be made by your primary care doctor, internist or family practice physician, who may suggest that you don't need any specialist follow-up. Or your physician may immediately refer you to an endocrinologist or even a surgeon. In some cases, you may have already seen a long list of practitioners — regular doctors, endocrinologists, otolaryngologists, surgeons, integrative physicians, naturopaths, chiropractors, even herbalists — and are not sure who would be the best person in which to entrust your care in the long term. Here are some guidelines to consider.

2. There is a shortage of endocrinologists in the U.S.

Endocrinology is the medical specialty that focuses on the endocrine system, including the thyroid. There are times when a thyroid patient should definitely consult an endocrinologist. Yet you may find that the waiting list to see an endocrinologist in your area is three months, six months, or sometimes even as long as nine months or more — if you can even get on the new patient waiting list at all. Learn more about the shortage of endocrinologists.

3. There are times when you should consult an endocrinologist, and times when one may not be needed.

Many people think that the best doctor to treat every thyroid condition is an endocrinologist, but if you have a suspected or diagnosed thyroid condition, do you need an endocrinologist? The answer? Some thyroid patients definitely should see an endocrinologist, and some may not need to see a specialist.

4. There are times when a second opinion for your thyroid condition is appropriate.

Many people with thyroid disease are diagnosed and treated by primary care doctors, general practitioners and internists. But when more complicated thyroid situations develop — such as suspicious thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer, an enlarged thyroid known as goiter, or Graves' disease — seeking a second opinion for your thyroid care may be especially important. When thyroid surgery is recommended, it's also an important time for thyroid patients to seek a second opinion.

5. Some endocrinologists are threatened by knowledgeable thyroid patients.

A subset of doctors — especially endocrinologists, thyroid specialists and self-described "thyroidologists" — appear to be particularly upset and threatened by patient- and physician-led advocacy and informational efforts to empower thyroid patients. Learn more about what endocrinologists consider so threatening, and why they discourage patients from researching, asking questions, and learning about thyroid disease.

6. In some states, a fully licensed naturopath may be an option for your thyroid treatment.

Naturopaths can vary in qualifications. Some have mail-order diplomas from online schools, while in certain states, becoming a licensed naturopath requires years of naturopathic medical school, internship, and residency, and these practitioners can become licensed physicians, with the authority to prescribe medications. Because trained naturopathic physicians have a more holistic and integrative perspective, and many focus on hormone levels and balance, they may be a good option for some thyroid patients.

7. It can be a challenge for thyroid patients to communicate effectively with their physicians.

With a chronic condition like thyroid disease, the doctor-patient relationship, and how well thyroid patients can communicate and deal with their doctors — including difficult doctors — are especially crucial to the effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment. This means that empowered thyroid patients need skills to effectively communicate and deal with thyroid doctors, resolve problems and complaints, and recognize when it's time to replace a difficult doctor with a new practitioner.

8. There are some clear signs that it's time to seek a new practitioner for your thyroid care.

The decision to find a new doctor is actually more difficult than most of us might think. Your relationship with a doctor is an intensely personal one, and it's not easy to find the right match — particularly when you may be limited by geography, HMOs, insurance or finance. You may find that you feel a bit intimidated by your physician, or once you are working with a particular doctor, you may feel you don't have the right to switch, or worry that they you offend the doctor. Remember: in a doctor-patient relationship, YOU are the client, and the doctor is providing a service. And if that service is not meeting your needs, the best thing you can do for your health is to find the right doctor who will meet your needs. Here are ten signs that you need a new doctor, and more than 200 personal stories from patients about how they knew it was time for a new practitioner.

9. There are five things thyroid patients should never say to the doctor.

Thyroid patients know that communicating with their doctors can sometimes be challenging. With busy doctors rushing from appointment to appointment, short appointments, and differing perspectives on what constitutes good thyroid care, conversations can be unproductive or even frustrating. Here are five things that thyroid patients should avoid saying, and personal stories from more than 50 patients, sharing their own stories on what not to say.

10. Some thyroid doctors have a negative view of empowered thyroid patients.

Unfortunately, the area of thyroid care sometimes attracts practitioners who are more interested in dogma and lab test results, rather than in how patients feel. Here are some examples that illustrate this situation:

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