If you’re used to being a patient on the NHS, it can be hard getting to grips with the level of choice you have as a private patient. While this can be liberating as it allows you access to the hospital and specialist of your choice, to the uninitiated it often represents a dilemma. After all, how do you know which private specialists are the best? And are some private hospitals higher quality than others?
Choosing a specialist
The great thing about being a private patient is the level of access you’ll have to the top specialists in the UK. It’s a General Medical Council requirement that to practice privately all doctors must hold an NHS post, so you can be safe in the knowledge your specialist has regular and thorough quality inspections so as to meet the highest of standards.
At the end of the day it comes down to your personal preferences. Generally patients consider the following:
GPs recommendation – Your GP is probably the best port of call for helping you choose the right specialist. They’ll have the benefit of experience dealing with a variety of consultants in your local area, and so will be able to tell you their particular specialities. For example, not all orthopaedic surgeons are the same, some will specialise in the foot and ankle, while others will focus just on the joints or shoulders. Without insider knowledge you wouldn’t know this, so your GP can be an invaluable help in pointing you in the right direction.
Family or friends experiences – If you have a friend or family member that’s been through a similar problem, they may be able to recommend the specialist that helped them. This gives you peace of mind as this advice comes from a trusted source, and you can see the great results of their work yourself.
Specialist biographies – You can read about a specialists medical background by looking on the private hospital websites that they work from.
Your insurance company – Advisers at your insurance company won’t be medically trained but they’ll be able to access a database of approved consultants in your area, and see which hospitals they work from. Your insurer can be a good initial point of contact for getting a few names, then you can research these specialists in more depth yourself.
If you don’t like the advice you’ve been given by a specialist, there are circumstances where your insurer will cover you to obtain a second opinion. First of all you’ll need to go back to your GP and explain your concerns, they will need to agree that a second opinion is worthwhile, and provide you with a new referral. If you give your insurer a call they should be sympathetic to this fact and a second opinion will usually be covered.
In order to use a specialist they need to be registered with your insurer. This process involves your insurance company checking their background and medical qualifications to ensure they’re qualified to do the job. If a specialist isn’t currently registered then you can ask your insurer to make contact with them and begin the registration process. This will normally take a week or so, but after that once they’re approved you’ll be able to use them.
Choosing a private hospital
When selecting the private hospital you’re going to use it’s worth considering the following.
Your hospital list – Every policy will come with a hospital list attached to it. You can choose to pay more for a more extensive list or stick with the basic option. Your insurer will be able to advise you which facilities you are able to use.
Location – If your hospital list is so restrictive that you have to travel a considerable distance to your nearest facility, try getting in touch with your insurer. If the distance is above 30-40 miles they may feel it’s only fair to allow you access to treatment in closer facility.
Facilities – Some hospitals are better equipped than others. Expensive scanning machines such as those capable of MRI and CT cost over a million pounds, so understandably you won’t find them everywhere. Details of the available facilities can be found on the hospital website.
Your specialist – Patients often fail to consider the admission rights of the specialist and assume they can work out of any hospital. Unfortunately this isn’t the case, so it’s worth checking with your insurer or specialist secretary where your chosen specialist works from. This can be problematic if they only work from hospitals which are not on your policy list, but your insurer will be able to assist you if you encounter any issues.
It can be empowering to be in the driving seat of your medical care for a change, just make sure you make a well informed choice regarding your specialist and hospital. Remember, you can change your specialist at any time so don’t put up with anything other than the highest quality service.
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