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How do I Choose the Best Lyme Disease Specialist?

By Alicia Bodine
Updated May 17, 2024
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Choosing the best Lyme disease specialist is usually a matter of figuring out which professionals are available in your area, which are covered by your health plan, and which mesh the best with both your condition and your personality. Lyme disease can be a very serious condition and symptoms can be present for decades if not a lifetime, though a lot of this depends on the intensity of the initial infection and how long it had been going on when it was caught. Most people have a lot of options when they’re looking to see a specialist. Reading about a doctor’s professional credentials is one good place to start, but before you begin what could be a lengthy course of treatment it’s usually wise to actually meet the specialist and have a conversation with him or her. Just because a person is well ranked and highly qualified doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she will be the best care provider for you. What’s truly “best” in this context is usually a mixture of training, expertise, and personality.

Getting an Accurate Diagnosis

Lyme disease is caused by tick bites, and it’s usually fairly easy to identify immediately after it sets it on account of the red, bull’s eye-like spot that typically appears at the bite site. The disease and the rash are caused by the Borellia burgdorferi bacteria that is carried in the tick’s saliva, then travels through the bloodstream of whoever gets bit. The rash is the most telltale sign of infection, but it isn’t always really prominent and, depending on where you were bit, it might not be noticeable to you at all. These are the more troubling cases, since the disease can be dormant in the human body for years at a time, then slowly start showing itself in ways that can be difficult to trace back to that initial bite.

Later-onset Lyme disease is often really difficult to diagnose. Symptoms include joint pain, muscle stiffness, headaches, and fatigue, and as things progress organ failure and digestive problems are often added to the list. If you suspect that you have this ailment but aren’t certain, you may want to look for a specialist who deals in all sorts of infectious diseases. This kind of doctor is usually able to more quickly assess all the possibilities for the symptoms you may be experiencing, and may be better equipped to notice Lyme disease in its later stages.

Medical Referrals and Other Recommendations

Depending on where you are and what your health care coverage specifies, you may need to get a recommendation from a primary care physician before you can see a specialist. Most doctors are familiar with specialists in their area, and should be able to direct you to a doctor or hospital for further treatment. You may also be able to find information about specialists through your insurance provider, and many insurance companies offer a list of specialists who are covered by their services. In most cases you’ll have a choice between several providers, but a lot of this depends on where you are and how far you’re willing to travel to get care.

Getting recommendations from friends and family members can also be really useful. Personal references are often able to tell you things, like specialist personality or how long you’ll likely sit in the waiting room, that wouldn’t necessarily be disclosed in a formal medical dossier. Knowing that someone you trust has had a good experience with a particular care provider can also give you confidence.

Informational Interviews

If possible, it’s also a good idea to meet with a specialist face-to-face before actually coming in for an appointment. Many doctors and practice groups do what are called “informational interviews” or “prospective visits,” where patients come and talk with the medical team in an informal way about what becoming a permanent patient would entail. Specialists don’t usually do any diagnosing or examining during these meetings, but they do typically set out their basic thoughts and general approaches. The main idea is determine whether this person or this team is one that you could see yourself working with. If so, they may be the best ones for you; if not, it’s usually a good idea to keep looking.

Benefit of Support Groups

The symptoms of Lyme disease do not always disappear when treatment is completed, so a support group can be a good continuing resource. Depending on the severity of your case, you may be required to continue undergoing tests and examinations for years, and while a Lyme disease specialist can help with the medical aspects of this, there are also usually some significant mental and emotional components. Getting together with other patients in a more casual setting to talk about treatments can be a place to release stress as well as a way to feel less isolated. Some specialists have support groups made up of their own patients, but many are also organized independently out of hospitals, community centers, and churches.

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