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Choosing a prosthetist: One of the keys to successful reintegration

Once the wound has healed and you’re ready to be fitted with your new prosthesis, the prosthetist becomes a central figure in your further recovery and reintegration. In fact, a prosthetist will play an important role in helping keep you mobile for the rest of your life. So you can see why choosing a prosthetist is one of the most important decisions you need to make.

How do you know which prosthetist to appoint? It’s important to remember that you have a choice: South Africa is blessed with some world-class prosthetists. By the time you get to this point, you may already have had contact with a prosthetist referred to you by a doctor and started the rehabilitation process with compression therapy to shape your residual limb. This is good, as it means that you’ve been getting specialist care right from the beginning, which will enhance your recovery, but remember: you aren’t obliged to work with any particular medical practitioner. You may want to continue with the prosthetist who has been treating you up to now, but you might also like to consider another prosthetist. Or perhaps you haven’t had any contact with a prosthetist yet.

What should you consider in your choice of a prosthetist?

Referrals

The best starting point is always referrals and recommendations: from other medical professionals, but ideally also from other people who have lost a limb.

Experience

As in any profession, some practitioners are more experienced than others, and some may have special clinical interests. Remember that experience isn’t necessarily connected with physical age, as people’s career paths vary. If you’re uncertain, we suggest you simply enquire politely about the experience the prosthetist you’re considering has in making prostheses for others with similar needs to yours. If it turns out to be difficult to have such a basic conversation with a particular candidate, that may be a warning of potential communication problems down the line.

Communication skills

The prosthetist’s communication skills are very important: can he or she interpret and understand your needs and feelings, address your fears and concerns, and clearly explain to you how the process will work and what to expect? Remember, you’re looking at a long-term relationship in which communication and trust from both parties are essential for constructive cooperation.

Familiarity with the latest trends and research

Is the prosthetist up to date with the latest technology? This is easy to establish, as leading manufacturers of prosthetics require prosthetists to do extra courses and demonstrate a high level of competence before certifying them to work with the latest technology. Look for a prosthetist who is certified by the manufacturer of your prosthesis as competent to prescribe and work with their latest technology.

Professional treatment facility

Top prosthetists invest in their treatment facilities and equipment so that they can offer high-quality care: although you probably won’t know what most of their equipment is for, your overall impression of the facilities is still important.

Rehabilitation team and other helpful contacts

Does the prosthetist work alone or in a multidisciplinary team – in other words, together with other medical specialists such as physiotherapists and biokineticists? Coordinating all the medical professionals working on your rehabilitation is a critical requirement for successful reintegration. Also, can the prosthetist introduce or refer you to additional services that might improve your life – for example, support groups, emotional recovery counsellors and sports groups for people with limb loss?

Financial considerations

Most of us don’t feel comfortable talking about money when our health is at stake; we all want access to medical care with compassion and dignity, and without compromise. (See the section on financial considerations for more detail on this topic.) But it’s important for you to appreciate that you needn’t rush into a decision. Don’t appoint a prosthetist until you have a clear understanding of the costs and financial arrangements. Our advice is, take your time and investigate all your options – in other words, be well informed – before you take the next step and appoint a prosthetist to design your prosthetic leg. As with everything in life, neither the cheapest nor the most expensive is necessarily the best.

It’s important to select a prosthetist whom you trust and feel you can work with as a long-term partner in your health. Perhaps what it all boils down to is this: ask yourself whether the prosthetist you are considering is professional and is as committed to your health as you are yourself.

Good idea

These days getting information is as easy as reaching for your tablet or smartphone, which gives you a powerful advantage: use the internet to help you decide on a prosthetist. The South African Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (SAOPA) has a website with information and a search function to find registered members across South Africa − www.saopa.co.za