It is often difficult for a patient to properly evaluate a specialist prior to making an appointment. Below are a few tips to help you choose the right pain management specialist.

Is your pain management specialist board certified in his or her specialty?

Pain management is a subspecialty. What this means is that a physician must first be trained in one of four specialties before he or she is eligible to apply for a pain management fellowship. A pain management fellowship is a training program that provides additional training focusing on pain management (I’ll discuss fellowships in greater detail below). The four medical specialties that are eligible to pursue additional training through accredited pain management fellowships include: physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation), anesthesiology, neurology and psychiatry. So, the first question to ask is whether your pain management specialist is board certified in physiatry, anesthesiology, neurology or psychiatry. Beware if a physician is practicing pain management and is not board certified in one of these specialities.

Is your pain management specialist fellowship trained at an accredited program?

A fellowship is additional training that a specialist undergoes in order to become more knowledgeable in a particular area of medicine, such as pain management. There are accredited and non accredited fellowships. Accredited fellowships are certified by the ACGME, the Accreditation Counsel of Graduate Medical Education. What this means is that the fellowship training program has been evaluated by a recognized governing body and has met various criteria considered essential for training physicians properly. So, the second question to ask is whether your pain management specialist is fellowship trained by an accredited fellowship program. Some excellent pain management specialists did not undergo formal fellowship training because such programs were not in existence at the time. If this is the case, these physicians should at least possess subspecialty certification in pain medicine.

Does your pain management specialist possess subspecialty certification in pain medicine?

This criterion is the equivalent of board certification for pain management specialists. A physician must meet certain criteria in order to be eligible to take the pain medicine board examination. However, certification is only granted to those physicians who pass the pain medicine board examination. So, the third question to ask is whether your pain management specialist has subspecialty certification in pain medicine.

Your chances of choosing the most qualified pain management specialist are best if he or she meets all three of the criteria outlined above. However, this is only where the process begins. We’ll talk about other important factors that one should look for in a pain management specialist in the near future.

Richard K. Nadjarian, MD. MPH
Diplomate of the American Board of PM&R
Subspecialty Certification in Pain Management
Fellowship Trained in Pain Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine

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