Finding the Best Medical Professionals Using the Internet in Six Steps

Image of Medical Professionals Research Spreadsheet

Introduction

This topic is close to my heart. There are those I love who really really need to get medical attention but have been frustrated by the ineptitude of some medical professionals. I’m writing this for you – yes, I really mean you! Pretty Please???

I’m also writing this to you, passing traveler on the information highway, because I want to see you find the medical care you need as well. I know you may be frustrated by multiple negative experiences, but I hope you’ll try using the method I outline below – I have been repeatedly satisfied with the results.

1. Finding Medical Professionals Covered By Your Health Insurance

The first step is to pull up your health insurance website and find the directory of providers covered by your insurance.[1] Here are links to those directories of providers on several of the largest health care insurer’s websites:

To get accurate results you’ll need to enter information about the health insurance plan you have (see your health insurance card) as well as the geographical locale in which you live. You should see a list of providers once you have provided the necessary information. Found it? Great!

2. Creating a List of Medical Professionals

Your next step is to create a list of medical professionals covering the sort of care you require. At this point I recommend creating the list without concern for who will be best or worst – instead, look at how close they are geographically to where you live.

I find that it’s best to add all of these individuals to a spreadsheet, and I’d recommend using Microsoft Excel,[3] Google Sheets, or AirTable. I’ve created a list provider spreadsheet template/example you can use.

Image of Medical Professionals Research Spreadsheet

In the first row you can place your column headings, which describes what will go in that part of the listing. I recommend starting with Provider Name, Distance (from your location), and Location (city).

Once all of the potential medical providers are listed in the spreadsheet, we are ready to move on to the next step…

3. Adding Health Professional Reviews to Your Spreadsheet

The next step is to go to a search engine (Google and Bing both work well) and to type in the title and then name of one of the providers followed by the city they are located in. This helps ensure that you get results for the correct practitioner – oftentimes multiple providers share the same name – even unusual ones!

In the image below you can see the results I received when entering “dr michael looney delmar” into Google. Notice how there are stars next to some of the results? These are the ratings the people on these review sites have given Dr. Looney–just like a product review on Amazon! You can visit the sites to see more details, but usually what we need is available right on the search results page. We are looking for the name of the review site, the rating the provider received, and the number of reviews the average is based on.

Image of Google Search Results

Now the spreadsheet you’ve created will need additional columns- two for each health review site we want to use. I have found the following to be among the most helpful review sites:

  • Healthgrades
  • Vitals 
  • Zocdoc – The nice thing about this one is that you can set up appointments through the web and there tend to be numerous reviews for doctors who participate in Zocdoc.
  • RateMDs
  • UCompareHealthCare
  • Wellness
  • PatientFusion – Good resource, but reviews seem to be largely limited to practitioners who use PatientFusion.
  • WebMD – They got into the game quite late, and while I expect them to continue to grow in quality, it’s hit or miss whether there are reviews of any given practitioner.

Here is a screenshot of the example spreadsheet I mentioned previously:

Image of Medical Professionals Research Spreadsheet

Note what I’ve done:

  1. I’ve shrunk the size of each column relating to the review sites as small as I can. This allows us to see all/most of the relevant rating info at once instead of needing to scroll right and left.
  2. I’ve shrunk the names to fit within the columns by using an abbreviation.
  3. I’ve created a column on the far left that explains the abbreviations I’ve used, for example, HG means HealthGrades.
  4. For each review listed on the Google Search results, I added the rating to the first column for that review site and then the number of reviews to the second column for the same review site.
  5. I also created another column that covers sites that I’ve found don’t usually have reviews of practitioners, but when they do can be a helpful source of information – in this case Facebook and Yelp.

I usually look at the first 2-3 pages of results to see what review sites/ratings show up. You’ll note that a number of the review sites columns are empty – this is because the review site/rating did not appear in the search results I’m seeing. That is perfectly okay!

You’ll then repeat this process for each provider on your list.

4. Picking the Best Medical Providers from Our Spreadsheet

Once we have our spreadsheet filled in we can begin to analyze the list of providers. Look for those with the highest scores across the most sites and from the most people. Soon you should have a few stand-out choices. If you don’t come up with any good choices, you can go back to the health insurance site and look at other providers further away. I know that isn’t what you want, and in most cases you shouldn’t need to, but it does happen sometimes – especially if you live in rural areas.

A couple tips on choosing the best providers:

  • I like to bold scores / number of reviews that are particularly high, this helps certain providers to stand out – especially if they have good reviews across several sites.
  • I like to italicize reviews that are particularly low, especially if they come from a high number of reviews. Again, the providers who have consistently poor scores across sites should begin to stick out as well.
  • While searching you may notice news articles or other helpful sites outside of review sites about a given provider, these can be of significant value.
  • Because you are looking at the consistently highest rated providers you may run into a few who have full schedules or for some other reason can’t see you, that’s okay, just move to the next person on your list.

5. Additional Things to Consider When Choosing Healthcare Providers

  • Don’t abandon the tried and true ways of finding a provider – talking to friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors! Their advice can be golden and you can then validate their recommendations by adding them to your list. You may find there is significant overlap between who people local to you recommend and who seems the best based on online reviews.
  • Don’t forget to talk to any medical providers you currently have that you do like. They are often more than willing to make referrals to other providers who can meet your needs. Once again, you can validate the recommendations by adding them to the spreadsheet and comparing them to the providers you have looked at on your own. Hopefully you’ll see significant overlap!
  • Remember that we humans tend to review services we feel strongly about – positively or negatively. Just because a doctor has some bad reviews doesn’t mean they are a bad provider overall. This is why I recommend looking across multiple review sites. In general, the more data you have, the more accurate the results (which providers are best) will be.
  • In my experience, some professions have generally lower scores than other professions. For example, you may find pediatricians who have 5 stars on multiple sites from multiple reviewers, whereas for psychiatrists or oncologists you might find that the highest scores are 4’s. There are various reasons for this, one being that some professions deal with more intractable problems than others.
  • Just because the reviews say so, doesn’t mean the medical provider is perfect or infallible. Use your own best discernment to determine whether the provider is a good fit for you.
  • Some really good practitioners are eccentric or abrasive. You have to decide if their particular type of eccentricity / abrasiveness is something you are comfortable with. For me, I don’t mind a practitioner who lacks social graces and is a bit abrupt at times, but this may not work for you – and that is okay.

6. Getting the Care You Need at the Appointment

Some medical professionals will walk you through the care process from beginning to end. Others will do so only if you specifically point out to them the issue you are having. Yet others will be effective in their particular niche but won’t provide any sort of overall support when multiple providers are involved. I think all of these types of providers can be good providers – but the way you approach them needs to be different. Don’t assume that the doctor knows what you need or want, tell them the information you believe is relevant (try to be as concise and specific as possible).

If the provider recommends a medication or treatment and there is another you’d prefer, tell them so, and ask them if that would be okay or if there are specific reasons they are recommending one course of treatment over another. Providers oftentimes have a “go to” treatment/medication that they have seen success with, but if you mention another treatment of equal quality, they’ll oftentimes be willing to start you off on that medication/treatment.

Don’t be afraid to leave a provider that you feel is not meeting your needs, or who is not willing to work with you to get those needs met in some practical way–even if other people have had a good experience with that provider. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and that’s okay–but it shouldn’t hold you back from receiving the care you deserve.

Your Thoughts?!

What are your thoughts on this article and process? How do you find quality medical care providers? Is there anything unclear in the article? I look forward to your feedback!

  1. [1]If you don’t know the website of your healthcare provider type it into a search engine like Google or DuckDuckGo and it should appear in the results.
  2. [2]Requires you to login to your online account. Come on UHC!
  3. [3]If you don’t have a copy of Excel available, you can use the free online version.

What You Didn’t Know About Canceling Your Health Insurance Through Healthcare.gov

I recently moved into a new part-time position which then became a full-time position and thereupon provided benefits including health insurance. Up until that point Sheila and I had been being hit with fairly large insurance premiums every month, so I was quick to call the insurance provider and request cancellation.

I was surprised when they told me that I’d have to contact Healthcare.gov to cancel my policy. Annoying, but not the end of the world and my guess is it is an accountability measure to ensure that insurance companies don’t cancel policies of individuals without their consent.

I called Healthcare.gov (1-800-318-2596) and asked to cancel my plan effective the 19th of June. I was assured this would be done. Great! I figured I’d have a nice partial refund check sent to me in a few weeks time.

I did receive mail from the insurance company – but it wasn’t the check I had been expecting. Instead I received a bill for July’s premium.

I called Healthcare.gov back and was informed that there was a thirty-day period between when they received a cancellation and when they submitted it to the insurance company. I balked. Thirty days? This should happen (and technologically is feasible) instantaneously!

I pushed back a bit and when they stood firm I acquiesced on one condition – they provide me with documentation of the thirty-day period. At this point I was given a case worker and then I waited to hear anything. Eventually I did hear – they had rolled back my insurance cancellation date to June 30th. This meant I no longer owed the insurance company anything but also that I would not receive a refund.

Today I called in again and was told that there was a 14 day waiting period. That they were sorry I hadn’t been told this before I canceled.

I again request documentation for this new shorter period. They suggested there might be some on the website…I found it: Cancel your Marketplace plan.

I could have canceled 14 days before the actual date I wanted the cancellation to occur if I had known about this 14 day period. I’m sure this may have been tucked away in some long-winded legalese that I reviewed at some juncture or another. I’m not happy about it, but it is a real policy.

Screenshot of cancellation policy for Healthcare.gov
Here is a screenshot of the cancellation policy as found on Healthcare.gov

The reason I share all this is to hopefully help others avoid losing out on premium refunds or being billed after their desired cancellation date.

WellnessFX – First Thoughts.

I love anything that helps me quantify myself. I have a Zeo, use Noom and its pedometer, subscribe to 23andMe, bought a new weight scale, and so on. Recently I signed up for WellnessFX – a service I’ve been drooling over for a couple years now and finally decided to jump in and bite.

Total iron-binding capacity
Total iron-binding capacity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why now? Well, they sent me this email with a 20% off coupon (MARCHWELLNESS) – I think you can use it as well. That means the price dropped from $199 to $159 or thereabouts. While I didn’t use an HSA or FSA account, apparently this is an entirely justifiable use (for those who have such things). I also left Cairn, where I had good health insurance and am now technically self-employed. I’m shopping around for health insurance, but so far the options have been crazy expensive (due to preexisting health conditions), so I’ve been paying out-of-pocket, and I figured since I’m saving money by not having health insurance I could splurge a bit and do something for my health by using WellnessFX.

What is WellnessFX? Great question! Essentially, WellnessFX offers health analysis through blood testing and a consult with a medical professional. Lets walk through the process I went through and that will probably give everyone a better idea…

First off, I signed up for WellnessFX on their website and purchased their Baseline package which normally clocks in at $199. Using the discount code above I was able to get it for around $159.

Next, I chose a lab location I wanted to schedule a visit at. WellnessFX has partnered with some of the largest labs in the country – so finding a nearby lab was easy. I chose a day and time from those available – and presto, I was good to go.

The next day I went to the lab, submitted my paperwork, and within fifteen minutes had three vials of blood drawn and was able to leave, no worse for the experience.

Now came the waiting – and somewhere in there the questions. I filled out a bunch of questions about my health and habits. Nothing too overwhelming. An email said it might take three to five days for my results to be analyzed. I had gone in for the blood draw on Tuesday and had the results by Friday.

I logged into the WellnessFX site and took a look at my health stats. Everything is broken up into nice little panels of similar analyses. The first was a basic lipid panel which calculated total cholesterol, LDL-C Direct (bad cholesterol), HDL-C Direct (good cholesterol), and Triglycerides. Uhhohhh, my triglycerides are high. Well, I knew this from the last time I was at my general practitioner…and I’m looking forward to my consult with WellnessFX, as I already take Omega-3 supplements and still have the high triglycerides.

Next is the LDL Particles showing vLDL-C, LP(a), and Apo B – again, I’m not doing well on the Apo B side (protein in LDL (bad) cholesterol). Somewhat surprisingly the next segment “Inflammation” shows me as being fine – interesting since I’ve been undergoing a lot of testing related to auto-immune issues and have had an escalating ANA result (bad). But at least by WellnessFX’s measurement I’m okay – but they only measure hs-CRP – and I’m guessing that ANA is different?

The next major section covers Metabolic health. I’m doing fine as far as diabetes and insulin resistance go – both my glucose and Hemoglobin A1c are within normal parameters. This is somewhat surprising to me as I sometimes have symptoms which seem diabetic and I’ve eaten enough sugar to put some folks into a comatose state – no, I’m not proud of that, its just a fact.

My thyroid levels (TSH) also come up okay – but I’m a little saddened by the lack of tests performed on the thyroid. One can get more extensive testing done with their Thyroid test but that doesn’t include most of what is in the Baseline and costs a $399. I understand the price difference is probably in the testing, its just unfortunate. If one where to get the Thyroid test one would receive not only TSH but also T4, T3, T3 Uptake, Free Thyroxine Index, Free T3, Reverse T3, and Free T4 analysis. I’ve had most of these during my entire health episode over the past year or so.

Still under metabolism they’ll check on my liver function – which appears to be happy as can be. This includes testing of ALT / SGPT, ALP, AST / SGOT, Bilirubin, Albumin, Total Protein, Globulin, and the Albumin / Globulin ration.

Just down to kidneys and there are some interesting results which I’m looking forward to talking about during the consult. My creatinine (serum) is within bounds, but right at the upper end and at the end of this section I see that my BUN / Creatinine Ratio  is within bounds, but right at the lower end. There are also tests for eGFR, BUN, and Albumin – all of which look fine.

Next major section is electrolytes – I’m looking good across the board. They measured my sodium, potassium, chloride, CO2, and calcium levels – all are within bounds.

Then it is on to Bone. Here my ALP and Calcium are fine but my 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D is quite low. A note has been attached to my results informing me that while I should discuss this during my consult they recommend I begin taking 10,000 IU of D3 immediately.

The section closes with Vitamins – but the only one measured is 25-Hydroxy Vitamin D, where the results are again low. This is another section where I would like to see a little more testing – and, again, they do offer testing with a more expensive package. Their Performance package which clocks in at a frightening $699 also checks Ferritin, Folate, Vitamin B12, RBC Magnesium.

In addition, having been spoiled by my recent blood tests while under health insurance, I’m saddened to see that complete blood count, total iron binding capacity, DHEA, free testosterone, testosterone, estradiol, SHBG, Cortisol, IGF-1, and insulin are all only available with the Performance package.

I don’t even know what all those are for, but I do know I’d love to have my testosterone, cortisol, and insulin levels analyzed as well. I suspect my cortisol levels would be low.

But that isn’t quite the end of WellnessFX for me. Next I get a 20-minute consult. There are a number of different medical professionals available, I chose Dr. Andrea Gorman b/c one of her areas of expertise is mental health – and goodness knows I have my bouts with OCD and Depression. The consult isn’t for another week or so, but I’ll update the post once I’ve spoken with Dr. Gorman.

Finally, WellnessFX isn’t a once-and-done process, it is meant to be repeated every 4-6 months. I’d like to do it every four months to start, and as my health stabilizes and stats stabilize to move to once every 6 mo. or even once every 12 mo. It doesn’t appear that there is a price break for returning customers – which is unfortunate, but they do offer over-time analysis through the web interface, helping you track and quantify your health as time passes and one makes adjustments to one’s lifestyle, or life makes adjustments to you.

In my opinion, this is the future of medicine. “But Dave, how can you spend $199 when there isn’t anything wrong with you?” Well, first off, I have plenty of health problems, so there is plenty wrong with me. 🙂 But, lets say I was healthy, I still think this would be a good investment. It takes very little time and empowers the individual to take care of their own health. It could help reduce not only their long-term health costs but also the overall healthcare burden on our nation’s GDP as it is very likely that health issues will be detected and treatment begun much earlier in the process than the way most of us are going now…

I don’t want to get rid of doctors – by no means! But I would love to see doctors doing less busywork checking if folks are healthy and able to focus more on when we are actually in trouble, and WellnessFX seems to enable just such a system. I’d suggest to doctors that this might even be something they’d want to recommend to patients in their practice. “Hey, go get this done twice a year and we’ll look over the results together at your annual physical, or before if you feel sick.” $400/yr. really isn’t much – especially if it helps us head off diabetes, thyroid issues, heart disease, or etc.!