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.1If 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. 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,3If you don’t have a copy of Excel available, you can use the free online version. 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!

The Case for Psychological Medications & Treatment.

Today I’m not going to talk about a product or service in a specific sense, but rather a more underlying philosophical approach to the mind. My hope in this post, in conjunction with the series of posts on books relevant to the major mental disorders, is to raise awareness of mental illness and remove some of the stigma of receiving treatment (medically or otherwise).

On Medication & Side Effects:

I do not want to discount the real concern that there are potential side effects from consuming medications that interact with our minds. Unlike many of our other organs which we understand to a great degree, the brain still resides as a major mystery and our treatments for aberrations in this mysterious and fascinating organ are far more primitive than any of us would desire. On the other hand, I’d like to share a few observations in my personal battle in deciding to consume medications:

  • The damage from mental aberrations is certain, the damage from medications is small (or unknown). Peter D. Kramer in his book Against Depression writes, “In the aged brain, strokes cause more injury than they do in the young brain, and so do infections, blood clots, inflammation, low blood sugar, seizures–you name it. Prior exposure to stress (and to stress hormones) is the critical factor in this age-related vulnerability. More stress in the past makes an animal more brittle in old age. Both neurons and their protectors, glial cells, are at risk.” “Much of the damage done by stress hormones is to the stress-response system itself. The brain is a complex communications network, one cell reaching out to another. In the face of stress hormones, neurons lose connective wiring. In particular, cells in the hippocampus shed receptors for incoming messages about stress. The hippocampal cells also lose dendrites, the branches that connect a neuron to neighboring cells and transmit outgoing messages. Like overwhelmed people who withdraw from social contact, overwhelmed neurons in the hippocampus become isolated.” (pg. 117) Point being, while there may be unknown long-term side-effects to taking a medication there is no doubt about the health effects of untreated aberrations on the human mind.
  • We have a certain fear of losing ourselves through medication. We ask ourselves, “are we just druggies, in need of a fix to make ourselves feel good?” We ponder whether there is not some good side to our illness.1 I don’t want to tackle this question in too much depth, but let me briefly summarize my position. There are lessons that can be learned while undergoing a challenge of any form – physiological, mental, familiar, economic – but these lessons are pain that is utilized by God for good, they are not in themselves good. In the Scriptures we do not find Jesus (the incarnation of God) saying to those who asked for healing, “I’m sorry. Its better for you be ill. I won’t heal you.” No, we find him bringing hope and healing. There is more than enough pain in this world, more than enough challenges, lets not purposely embrace unnecessary challenges – lets heal where we can and depend on the grace of God throughout. We fear that society would lose a certain portion of itself without those who mentally struggle. We ask what would have history been like if individuals like Martin Luther, Picasso, van Gogh, Kierkegaard, George Fox, and so many others of our great minds had not suffered?2Peter Kramer tackles this topic extensively in Against Depression, a book that while to all appearances on the disorder of depression has more to do with fighting the cultural value we have given depression (and can be extended logically to other disorders).2 This is the question, but we are simply asking it the same way. One does not lose depth without disorder. When one removes the disorder one finds greater ability to tap and manage depth. The disorder disables the individuals, removing capacity to innovate, it does not add to it.
  • Yet, there is still a concern about the medication. There is no doubt that medication can affect us in ways we do not expect – in fact covering over portions of what we consider our personality. Sometimes the side effects are the exact opposite (though only in a very small minority) of what is expected – instead of relieving depression or anxiety it increases it. This is why I suggest the involvement of a community in the process is essential. At the most basic one’s psychiatrist, but preferably including friends and family. These individuals can objectively help you understand the effects of the medication on your daily behavior and assist in determining whether the medication is allowing the real you to shine out or masking it (the latter is marginal, but possible).
  • We assume that medical illness is a choice we face in isolation, but it is not. While we assume that refusing treatment is solely our suffering we cannot underestimate the impact of our suffering on others. The lack of energy we feel translates into a lack of energy for friends and family. The sudden bouts of rage we battle flies out at the most uncomfortable times – at work, with our wives or children. Our illness is real and affects those around us. If our worldview is twisted, we impart this twisted worldview to those we interact with to some extent. We must recognize the extent of others suffering.
  • We oftentimes assume that our suffering isn’t that bad. We are resilient people in many senses. Many of us operate on a decently functional level without medication. Especially as adults we learns methods of coping with our foibles. But there is a great difference between functionally nominally well and functioning to one’s true human potential.3When I speak to “true human potential” I do not mean the actual perfection of mankind. I do not want to embark on a theology lesson, but it is my firm belief that we are beyond hope in (via natural means) redeeming our broken selves (and thus in need of a more than natural (supernatural) escape). When I speak of “true human potential” I mean a level of functioning which we as broken humans can embrace. It is not the full escape, but it is better than. The individual with clotted heart may need stints, this will make life better – allowing him to act to his “full potential” as opposed to without stints. At the same time the individual still is not “whole” in the sense of having a perfect heart. Some of us have been suffering for so long that we don’t know what it is like to be free. Even after a short while in the grip of a mental illness it feels natural, as if this is the way things should be. Yet I have experienced (and proudly bear witness to) becoming more myself (and it is the self I strove for but could not be) when accepting and receiving treatment.

What About Them Psychologists/Counselors?

There is a fear of psychologists/counselors that permeates many and especially among those who would consider themselves Evangelical Christians (of which I consider myself a constituent). The fears are not entirely unfounded. There have been individuals who have seen a counselor/psychologist who provided bad advice and have changed their lives for the worse because of this advice4Probably one of the most ready examples to Christians is recommendations to divorce a spouse.. But I would suggest that we need not fear the psychologist (or counselor) but instead the uncritical thinking and lack of contextual support that allows illegitimate beliefs to grow. In my opinion, a counselor is an individual to dialogue with about our lives and whom we allow to speak honestly and openly with us about the issues they see in our lives.55. With Larry Crabb (Soul Talk: The Language God Longs for Us to Speak), it would be my hope that eventually this sort of “soul care” could be performed by one another. Unfortunately, at this juncture, too often this help is not available and those around us (including ourselves) are not able/willing to enter into the required depth of dialogue. When we give someone permission to explore our life and philosophy this does not mean we give them permission to determine our beliefs. We can and should critically evaluate each suggestion for its truthfulness. Additionally, I would suggest that counseling becomes much safer when one uses it as a primary means of exposing the difficulties in ones life but then also utilizes a secondary support system to give you context to the recommendations and issues raised. While many people are not prepared to provide the depth of inquiry and feedback that a counselor can, many of them are willing to discuss with you individual subjects which the psychologist raises. Thus the danger of psychology is not that there may be false beliefs but that we uncritically and without contextual relational support accept such beliefs. No individual has perfect knowledge, every encounter is a mixture of truth and error, this is true even for professionals. We must be willing to battle for truth on our turf, not simply accept the pronouncements of others. That said, having someone challenge our belief system can help us revise and strengthen our belief systems in ways that allow us to live better lives.6 When I speak of better lives I mean in many ways – less painful, less stressful, etc. But to me the ultimate depiction of a better life is the ability to love and know God and one another despite circumstances. Everything else is frosting on the cake.

Are We Willing to See Ourselves?

When it really comes down to it, my argument is not so much particularly for psychological medications and treatment – but for the willingness to explore ourselves, and not solely internally. You can sit down and talk with a psychiatrist and a psychologist without taking medication and without accepting their advice. But perhaps it is worthwhile to ask the question? To open ourselves to the possibility? To ask someone else, “Do you hurt this way every day? Do you feel this anxious? Do you have this much trouble sleeping?” So often we assume our suffering is normative, when it is anything but.

Please feel free to give me some feedback on this post. I know this post has been much more ideological than many others I have posted but I want to engage you in discussion about this. I am at much risk of mixing truth with error as any other fallible human being. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why God said after creating everything else “good” that “it is not good for man to be alone.”7 In an ultimate theological sense, even the community of mankind is not enough. We can do better by working together, but we still find ourselves to fall short. Extra-natural inspiration and revelation is needed (I could just say “supernatural” but this word is beaten to death like a horse and connotes all sorts of wishy-washy sentimentalism that so many reject without considering the underlying import of the word. By changing words I am not changing the meaning but simply attempting to force us to process those things with which we have become so comfortable (or uncomfortable).)

Liv-Natural.

(This is a reprint of an old review I did of Liv-Natural, a natural health sports drink).

I must first admit as I review Liv Natural’s drinks that I am not an objective observer. Igor St. Phard, Sales Manager for Liv-Natural is a friend, worship at the church I attend, and is a sometimes basketball opponent. He generously gave my brother-in-law (Chris) some of the Liv-Natural drinks when Chris was on a liquids only diet after being randomly beaten in NYC. It was during this time that I received my first taste of these drinks. On the other hand, I don’t push products I don’t believe in – so I think you will still find this review helpful.

When I first heard about these “all-natural” drinks I had my doubts. My mom is a big fan of organic foods and I oftentimes rebelled against this because I didn’t enjoy the taste (e.g. bread made with honey instead of sugar). I’d had rice milk before and didn’t like it – so I thought that these all-natural rice drinks would probably be disgusting as well. But when Chris couldn’t finish all the drinks Igor gave him – I began trying them, and I was amazed. It actually tasted good.

It isn’t every day that we find things that are both healthy for us and tasteful. Sadly, we oftentimes must choose between a healthy lifestyle and enjoy the food we eat. But with Liv-Natural this is not true. The juice tastes amazingly like your run-of-the-mill sports drinks, except perhaps better. It uses agave nectar which is amazingly tasty and a good replacement for corn syrup.

Now, I admit, I’m no expert on the benefits or dangers of rice and agave nectar and whether these ingredients may have any dangers similar to the processed ingredients found in many of today’s sports drinks – but I do know  that I’d rather drink a sports drink without that fructose corn syrup and other processed ingredients any day.