Need to See a Specialist?

Need to See a Specialist?

When you’re not feeling well, your first step is likely to call your primary care doctor. But if you have a more serious health problem, your doctor may say you need to see a specialist.

What exactly is a specialist?

A specialist is a doctor who has additional education and clinical training in a specific field of medicine.

Your doctor may decide that your health issue needs the opinion of a specialist to make sure you get the right diagnosis and treatment. Or you may need to see a specialist for special treatment once you’ve been diagnosed. In some cases, you will see a specialist until your condition is under control, then your primary care doctor will take care of your ongoing condition management.

Common Specialties

Some examples of health issues that would need a specialist’s care include:

  • Arthritis or other joint conditions
  • Stomach or digestive conditions
  • Eye disorders
  • Heart conditions
  • Cancer
  • High-risk pregnancy
  • Mental health issues

The type of specialist you see depends on the health concern. If you have a skin problem, your doctor may send you to a dermatologist. And if you have cancer, you’ll most likely see an oncologist.

There are several hundred medical specialties, including ones you’ve likely heard of but will never need. The U.S. Library of Medicine offers a list of common specialists.   And Yale Medicine explains some less common specialists

Don’t worry about asking too many questions if your doctor mentions a specialty that’s unfamiliar. Ask questions until you have a good sense about what to expect. Here are some tips for talking with medical specialists

Why Not Start with a Specialist?

Primary care doctors are trained in diagnosing and treating many health problems. They also know when someone with more knowledge and training is needed for a certain health issue. Unless you have the training of a doctor, you can’t know if your symptoms need a specialist. For example, what you think is a heart problem may be a reflux issue.

Another good reason? Specialists cost you more. Most health plans have you pay a higher copay to see a specialist. And because they charge more, the amount you pay in coinsurance (if you have it) may be more, too. If you haven’t met your deductible yet, you could be paying a lot of out-of-pocket charges you wouldn’t have if you saw a primary care doctor first.

Your doctor has experience working with many specialists and can help you find the best one for you.

What’s Next?

Your primary doctor can help you through the process of seeing a specialist.

Your doctor’s office can check to make sure the recommended specialist is in your network, but it doesn’t hurt to confirm that. Seeing providers in your plan’s network helps you get the most from your benefits. Your out-of-pocket costs may be lower when you see network providers. In some cases, you may have to pay the whole bill if you see an out-of-network specialist.

Want to double check? Log into Blue Access for MembersSM and use the Provider Finder® tool to make sure the specialist is in your health plan’s network. If not, ask your doctor to recommend another specialist.

Some health plans may require a formal referral or prior authorization from your primary care doctor. Talk to your doctor or call the number on your member ID card if you aren’t sure what you need to do.

Sources: Talking with Medical Specialists: Tips for Patients,   U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Which Specialist Do I Need? Maybe a Doctor You Didn't Know Existed,   Yale Medicine, 2017; Types of health care providers,   U.S. Library of Medicine, 2019