How to Find the Right ENT

Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor

Doctor examining patients ear in doctors office
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An otolaryngologist is a doctor that has received specific training to treat disorders of the ears, nose, throat, as well as the head and neck.Commonly referred to as an ENT (standing for ears, nose, and throat), otolaryngologists represent the oldest specialty of physicians; having their first meeting held in 1896. This group initially also included opthalmology (eye specialist); however, due to the size of the organization, it was separated in 1962.

Otolaryngologists now belong to an organization known as the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. With the 12,000 doctors that are part of this organization, how can you identify the one that will be the best for you? Let's explore this field and identify things that can help you determine the right ENT for you.

What ENT Doctors Treat

The field of otolaryngology is quite extensive, but here is a list of the common types of disorders that an ENT doctor will treat.

  1. Allergies
  2. Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery involves any surgery to repair structural abnormalities or cosmetic changes to the face, neck, or ears
  3. Head and Neck includes any tumors (both cancerous and benign tumors) located in the head and neck
  4. Laryngology is the specialty related to disorders of the throat
  5. Otology & Neurotology includes any disorders related to the ears or nerves associated with hearing and balance
  1. Pediatric Otolaryngology is a specialized field related to childhood disorders related to the ears, nose, throat, head and neck
  2. Rhinology is related to disorders of the nose and sinus cavities

Starting Point

If you have health insurance, call your insurance company first. Some insurance companies will cover only services provided by specific physicians that are part of their network.

Also, your insurance company should have a large database of doctors in your area. To call your company, look for the number on the back of your insurance card. It may be listed under member services. Some insurance companies require what is known as a prior-authorization for services. If this is the case with your insurance, your primary care physician will need to refer you to see an ENT for the visit to be covered.

Use Your Resources

Once you have a list of covered ENTs in your area, you can check with your primary care physician. If there is a good otolaryngologist in your area, they will likely have a reputation among the medical community. You can also ask your friends and family. Chances are good that someone you know already has an ear, nose and throat doctor. This is helpful because they will likely give you an honest opinion of their doctor from a patient's perspective. They will also be able to describe if they interact well with patients, or if they have heard about any complications with working with that ENT in the past.

You can also use resources available on the internet that rate physicians. Many websites, such as healthgrades.com will provide you information about certifications, malpractice cases, training background and patient ratings.

You can also validate whether the ENT you are considering is certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology by visiting aboto.org. In order to become board certified, the physician has to have 5 years of structured training including time studying:

  • anesthesia
  • critical care
  • emergency medicine
  • ENT specialty rotations (see specialties listed above)
  • surgery

Understanding the ENTs medical training, certifications, and other information will help you to make an informed decision on who you want to see.

Questions to Ask the Doctors Office

Because there are 7 subspecialties that are a part of the field of otolaryngology, many doctors will focus on one specialty.

For instance, there are ENTs who solely work on disorders of the ear (rhinology). These physicians will stay so busy placing ear tubes and performing other ear surgeries that they would no longer be as competent in removing a thyroid.

Before scheduling an appointment, ask the scheduler:

  1. Does the doctor specializes in an area of otolaryngology?
  2. Does the doctor see patients with ____ insurance?
  3. What is the normal waiting time, and can I be seen sooner if there is a cancellation?
  4. Do I need a referral to see the physician?

The scheduler may not always know if your insurance is covered. This can be very frustrating as a patient, but there are many different insurances and many different plans that can affect your coverage. It is always best to verify with your insurance; usually the patient advocate with your insurance provider.

Sources:

About Us. American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery website.http://www.entnet.org/content/about-us. Accessed October 18, 2017

What Is an Otolaryngologist? American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery website.http://www.entnet.org/content/what-otolaryngologist. Access October 18, 2017.

Policies: Training Requirements. American Board of Otolaryngology website. https://www.aboto.org/resident-policies.html. Accessed October 18, 2017.

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