How to Choose a Private Consultant?


Choosing a private consultant, or other private healthcare practitioners, could be one of the most important decisions you ever make. After all, in some cases, particularly surgery, you are literally trusting your life to this person. But how do you make this decision? Fortunately, there are a number of sources of advice.

Advice and Recommendations

If you’ve gone to your GP, he or she will almost certainly have views about which practitioner is most suitable. Some of this will be based on published data, such as waiting times and location. If you want to be seen sooner or in a particular place, that will certainly affect the recommendation. But GPs also usually know who is considered to be good, and what the local medical rumour mill is saying. They may not tell you the precise basis for their recommendation, but it’s likely to be reasonably sound. It’s certainly well worth listening if they seem to be hinting you away from a particular person or hospital.

Gp referring to a private consultant.

If you are seeing another doctor, it may also be worth asking them for an opinion about who to see. If a specialist believes that they are not the right person to help you, they probably have a very good idea of who might be better. There are also a number of medical concierge services that will provide recommendations for private healthcare. These all promise to find you a suitable practitioner who fits your requirements.

Medical Concierge Services

However, you need to be aware of the basis for their recommendations. Some concierge services are completely independent: you pay for their advice, and they do not take any commission from doctors or clinics. Others may be free to patients, but will instead be funded by commission. They, therefore, have an incentive to recommend the clinics or doctors who pay the most.

Some services are linked to particular hospitals or clinics, and will only recommend doctors who use those clinics. It is always worth checking your consultant via the General Medical Council, or other regulators.

Online Research

The regulators hold lists of all those who are qualified and registered to practise in the UK, and you can check easily online. The internet, and social media in particular, also provides some information. These may include reviews of doctors and/or hospitals and personal recommendations.

However, one person’s perfect consultant may be another’s nightmare, so do research anyone who is recommended. A quick Google of the name will help you to find out if there is any adverse ‘chat’ about a particular person online since most people are quick to take to social media with complaints. You also need to remember that rating sites are not infallible and that it is possible to post false reviews (both positive and negative).

Using Published Data

There is also some published data that may help your decision. The NHS provides a search facility for both consultants and hospitals. This includes some private hospitals that provide services to the NHS, and most private consultants also work in the NHS. However, the information is a bit limited. For hospitals, it covers waiting times, chances of staying in overnight after a procedure, and the outcome of the latest Care Quality Commission assessment. This can tell you clearly where not to go, but is less helpful in choosing a consultant. There is very little published about most consultants, apart from their location. The NHS publishes outcome data for ten specific procedures, but that is not very informative if you do not need one of those procedures. In some specialities, such as cardiac surgery, more information is published. However, care is needed in interpreting this information. The number of times each surgeon has carried out each procedure will tell you their level of experience: more is probably better. However, the mortality rate is less helpful, because a high mortality rate is not necessarily bad. Some very good surgeons are prepared to operate on sicker patients. These patients, however, are more likely to die during or just after the operation, giving those surgeons—many among the best in the world—higher mortality rates. The PHIN website also publishes information to help patients choose hospitals and consultants, but it is, again, a bit limited. The outcomes data, in particular, is a bit sparse.

A Good Relationship

Finally, good healthcare depends very much on the relationship between practitioner and patient. If you do not like your chosen consultant when you finally meet face-to-face, it may be worth going elsewhere.