Transferring medical care to another provider can be a daunting process for just about anyone. For those of us with PKU – a rare condition affecting 1 in 10,000 to 15,000 – finding other professionals who are qualified to treat our condition might seem so unlikely that the feeling of uncertainty suppresses any intent we originally had for making that change. Yet, having a clinical team that both performs at a high level and achieves some level of compatibility with its patients is critical to ensuring successful treatment.
Setting PKU aside for a moment, consider how you might react after hearing the news that you needed to have open-heart surgery. It would not be unreasonable to expect that before electing to have the procedure you would conduct your own research, check hospital rankings and gather data about the surgeon’s experience. Open-heart surgery may be an extreme scenario to compare to the treatment of PKU, yet I would argue that the motivation for seeking out the best medical care should apply as much to a rare, chronic condition as it does to severe and sudden medical emergencies.
Perhaps no one has better illustrated the importance of a solid physician-patient relationship than Jessie Gruman, the founder and president of the Center for Advancing Health, when she served as a guest blogger for KevinMD.com. In the post, she writes:
“If I feel she has really listened to what is going on with me and what it is going to take for me to do what she recommends … if we together make a plan about next steps … if I trust her expertise and experience, I am much more likely to try to do my part. On the other hand, if I feel like she sees me as just the next problematic body part to appear on a fast-moving assembly line, if she is talking at me, not with me, if she interrupts, corrects me or ignores me, all bets are off. I’ll take her recommendations under advisement but do what I think is best.”
Earlier this year, I made the very personal decision to transfer my care to another PKU clinic. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly, nor did I make it in haste. I wanted to ensure that the professionals I partnered with were experienced with maternal care, had a successful (and recent) track record with mothers who successfully gave birth on the PKU diet, and most importantly, I wanted a clinical team who was refreshingly optimistic about working with maternal PKU patients.
Despite my motivation for transferring my medical care, PKU patients and their families seek-out alternative clinics for a variety of reasons. Not everyone looking for a new clinic does so out of dissatisfaction. Families relocating because of a new job will also gather insight on new clinics located in the communities where they plan to move. Since it is conceivable that all PKU patients and their families might one day be faced with the task of finding a new PKU clinic, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips for making the transition as smooth as possible.
With that in mind, here are six things to know when selecting a new PKU clinic:
What other metabolic clinics are located nearby? Are there other clinics in your state or what about across state lines? BioMarin’s PKU.com has a ‘clinic finder’ tool that will allow you to search for clinics based on your zip code and the mileage you are willing to travel.
Does the new clinic accept your current insurance coverage? Contact your insurance company’s customer service department (the number is usually located on the back of your insurance card) and ask them to look up the new physician to see if they are considered ‘in-network.’
Is there a fee to release your medical records? The federal law known as HIPAA, short for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, guarantees the right to access your own medical records; however, some clinics may charge a fee to release them. Georgetown University’s Center on Medical Records Rights and Privacy offers a complete list of state-specific record release laws and fees. In some cases, if you request to have your medical records sent directly to the new clinic you may be able to avoid the processing fee.
Once you have found a possible new PKU clinic, schedule a new patient appointment and be candid about the objective of your meeting. You should approach this appointment with the same mentality as a job interview – making sure they are as good of a fit for you as you are for them. Here are some questions worth asking any new metabolic clinic:
How frequently would you be required to visit the clinic? At a minimum, most PKU clinics prefer to see their patients on an annual basis; however, the frequency of visits may increase for some patients depending on the nature of their care. For example, newborns recently diagnosed with PKU and maternal PKU patients may need to travel for in-clinic visits more often. Thankfully, technological advancements are making it easier for healthcare providers and patients to work together remotely. Ask your clinic if they are comfortable handling a portion of your care remotely. As long as they are receiving regular blood levels and you are talking with them often via phone or email, they may not have any issues.
What do you know about the staff’s credentials and the clinic’s operations? More than knowing a practitioner’s education, training and certifications, do they have physicians specializing in maternal PKU, newborn screening, adolescents, etc.? You may also want to ask about the patient to physician ratio. Are they overworked and spread thin? How does the clinic prioritize patients and how long can you expect for a turn around on blood work, returned phone calls, new prescriptions and other administrative processes?
Is the practitioner willing to work together with your traditional healthcare providers? If you are seeking out a new clinic for maternal PKU, is the physician willing to collaborate with your obstetrician? If you are a parent of a PKU child, is it important to you that a PKU clinic works closely with your primary care physician to track growth, developmental progress and other medical concerns?
Managing the PKU diet can be labor intensive in and of itself…that is without having to take-on the hassle of finding a new physician. But keep in mind that proactive decision making will give you and your family a greater degree of control over your treatment. And in the end, it will all be worth it.