The average patient with bipolar disorder takes approximately 10 years to get a proper diagnosis. About 56 percent are first diagnosed with unipolar depression. I imagine the stats for depression and other diagnoses aren’t pretty either. Working with a good doctor can save you 15 years of pain and misery. Trust me, I know. I went through seven doctors before finding the one who saved my life. Not only was I diagnosed incorrectly for more than 10 years of my life, once I did get the right diagnosis, I was treated incorrectly—with about 15 different kinds of medication in the time period of four months. No wonder I was emitted into the ER to detox.
When folks ask me how to find a good doctor, I tell them to seek a physician that is affiliated with a teaching institution. Because that is where the most current research is done. Typically doctors from a teaching hospital or university are more conservative with medication, disseminating the older (less lucrative) meds that have been researched longer and are more reliable. They also have been vetted by that institution, which is worth something.
In her book, “When Someone You Love Is Bipolar,” Cynthia Last, Ph.D. offers a list of questions to consider when shopping for the right doctor:
- Did the doctor go to a well-known and respected medical school?
- Is the doctor board certified in psychiatry?
- Did the doctor do a fellowship after completing his or her residency? If yes, what did it specialize in?
- Is the doctor a member (in good standing) of the American Psychiatric Association? Does the doctor belong to any other national or regional professional organizations?
- Does the doctor have staff privileges at least one local hospital?
- Does the doctor have any clinical or academic appointments, like clinical or adjunct faculty at a university or head of a department of psychiatry at a local hospital or mental health facility?
- Does the doctor have a mostly adult practice?
- Does the doctor do therapy in addition to prescribing medication?
- How long is the initial visit, and how long are follow-up visits?
- What is the doctor’s availability after hours and on weekends?
First published on Sanity Break on Everyday Health.