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!

Healthcare Reform and Technology.

Human blood magnified 600 times
Image via Wikipedia

Disclaimer:

When it comes to discussions about nationalized healthcare, cost reductions, and other major political issues – I generally don’t feel qualified to comment. With this post I’m stepping out on a limb – and my qualifications1In this instance my qualifications consist in their entirety of (a) reading Newsweek weekly, (b) keeping current on major headlines [including healthcare] via Yahoo, and (c) reading/skimming a wide variety of rss feeds covering a gamut of tech/health topics. for doing so are probably still lacking. I welcome your feedback. I’m more than happy to be proved wrong – this is just want seems logical (and obvious?) to me.

Delimiters:

In this post I am not going to argue for or against nationalized healthcare, rather I am will discuss alternative methods of reducing costs/improving treatment. This is not because I disagree with nationalized healthcare2I disagree with those who utilize (Christian) Scripture as a argument against socialized medicine. I see no such impetus in Scripture. On the other hand, I find myself less optimistic about the effectiveness of governmental organizations than many more liberal minds (in Christian circles, Jim Wallis comes to mind). but rather because I see these steps as being a natural starting point in any attempts at cost reduction/treatment improvement.

Automation:

Each year I (try to) go for a physical with my doctor. I don’t enjoy it – but it allows me to find out if there is something major and obvious wrong with me. It takes a lot of time to see a doctor. After setting up the appointment one generally has to leave work and travel to the doctor. Being the anti-travel person that I am, that isn’t too big of a hazard – my doctor is five minutes drive from my house, ten from work. Still, its a nuisance.

Once I arrive, no matter how early or late, I always end up waiting and waiting (and waiting and waiting). Generally I am surrounded by others like me who are healthy and present for routine maintenance as well as those who are ill. Unfortunately, this means I am in a enclosed space with several individuals who are hacking and sneezing – throwing contagious germs around the room. I don’t harbor any hard feelings – I do the same when I am ill and I go to the same place to get treatment…but still, the risk is that I will leave with more wrong with me than when I entered.

The doctor’s examination includes fairly routine processes. He checks my height and weight. Checks my blood pressure, listens to my heart beat, pays attention for any abnormalities in my breathing, checks my mouth, ears, and nose – amongst other questions and proddings. Much of this process is actually carried out by one or more nurses (including the occasional bleeding for blood tests).

Now, my suggestion is simple, why not work on devices like the Zeo3Since defunct. which can perform most of this sort of monitoring automatically? Granted, the Zeo is only for sleep – but why can’t we make multi-functional devices that can monitor our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and any of dozens of other health factors? It seems that both the Apple iPhone and the Verizon/Motorola/Google Droid would be able to serve as perfect multi-functional devices for such a purpose (in addition to their many current uses). I’m not a big fan of having something implanted in me but I see no reason why such devices could not be used once a day/week in a few moments or with a small wireless band-aid type patch to monitor our health.

This automation would provide us with numerous benefits such as:

  • Reduced visits to doctors for regular physicals, increasing our work productivity/time off for recreation.
  • Increased monitoring of our vitals – alerting us to health issues in days instead of weeks or months.
  • Reduced exposure to environments with significant amounts of communicable health issues.
  • Advanced analysis of our health vitals to determine patterns of health that are disconcerting and need review.

Let me give a few examples of how a device like this might function:

  • Jane is fairly healthy. She uses her multi-function device once a week. It gives her peace of mind that her main vitals continue to operate within normal bounds. She doesn’t spend as much time worrying about whether this or that minor issue might be part of a bigger dilemma.
  • John uses his device daily. The device notes over a months time that John has significant blood sugar spikes around noon every Friday and this is accompanied by extreme bouts with sleepiness throughout the day. The device alerts John and John is able to change his dieting habits to reduce the sugar intake reducing his sleepiness.
  • Mary has chronic heart problems. While family bought her one of those devices that calls 911 if pressed they still worry about her constantly…until she received a multi-function device. She keeps a wireless patch on her all the time – which covers her vitals. It lets her know when she is working too hard and in danger of bringing on a heart incident and will even call 911 if she keels over – without her interaction.

Analysis:

I know some people are afraid of having their records kept electronically. I could explain why I don’t think this is a major concern but perhaps another time4In brief, (a) privacy is an illusion – our information is already available, perhaps just not centralized and (b) I have nothing to hide – so why hide it? You want to know I struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Now you know. Finally, as outlined above I think the benefits are huge (and outweigh the negatives).. The keeping of electronic records instead of traditional paper records would offer several significant benefits:

  • Medical offices could (with permission) share information instantaneously. No more waiting days or weeks to get paperwork transferred from one office to another.
  • Medical offices could communicate with one another electronically and share results to coordinate better treatment plans.
  • A significant reduction in the amount of paperwork could be made. Individuals could give HIPAA consent via an e-sign form rather than through the useless bundles one receives at each doctor.
  • The data could be analyzed anonymously to garner important health information and to look for patterns invisible to the naked human eye. Think about it – we could find that individuals who now live in every state in the union and are suffering from stomach cancer all originally lived in the small town of sometown. While this might not solve their health problems it could launch an investigation to discover that (name toxin) is present in (name location – e.g. elementary school).
  • Further, the efficiency of treatments, the possibility of causes, the analysis of diseases could all be significantly expedited by such a process. The data could be anonymized and then made available for legitimate researchers to utilize in performing research (e.g. such as World Community Grid projects).

Pre-Treatment:

A lot of expense and time is caused by the inability to discover issues before they occur. What if we could monitor our health? What if we could be alerted (and allow our medical professionals to be alerted) before a major issue arises? If our spiking cholesterol levels were managed before they became a crisis? If our hearts failing functionality was noted before it resulted in a heart attack? If our liver and kidney function could be monitored?

Severity Monitoring:

I get sick somewhat often with minor bugs – a stomach bug, a cold, a virus. Annoying but not life threatening. In my line of work (IT) sometimes its really important to get a project done and while I personally am of the opinion that it is better to stay home and heal before returning to work many others in my field (and the American culture in general) are not. Sometimes even I succumb to the pressure to be present when feeling under the weather. What if I could cough into a small device attached to my multi-function and receive feedback on what sort of cold or virus I have? If its just the common cold I take some dayquil and am good to go – but if its strep, bronchitis, or the flu – well I stay home and see a doctor. How many epidemics could be prevented or reduced?

Conclusion:

I am not arguing for or against nationalized healthcare. I do wonder why there is not more effort in the areas I have outlined above – by governmental and private agencies – to utilize technology to solve these issues. I recognize that these solutions will have minimal effect on what some are especially concerned about (I am concerned as well) – the masses who are unable to receive affordable healthcare coverage. I suppose my thought is that if we can reduce the burden on the overall system, reduce our costs overall, this would provide more time and finances to direct towards those who have a need (whether that is on a governmental, religious, local, or personal level) while creating a sustainable system for future generations.

I eagerly await your thoughts and feedback. Thanks for your time and consideration of my ramblings!

HealthTap – Real Doctors, Real Free.

HealthTap is a pretty cool site (and phone app) I discovered a while back and have been using on occasion and also recommending others to when they have health problems.

This image thanks to openclipart.org and johnny_automatic.
This image thanks to openclipart.org and johnny_automatic.

HealthTap offers a bunch of services – but the one I find most interesting and exciting is the “Ask Doctors” option. They have a huge number of doctors (thousands?) who are willing to answer questions.

The doctors answer the questions for free within a few hours. You can also donate $.99 to a non-profit cause via HealthTap and your question is “expedited.” The doctors I’ve had respond provide real answers – not just, “Go see a doctor.” Though that is oftentimes part of their advice (and they usually suggest a specialist for whatever the likely issue is).

So, if you don’t have health insurance, don’t want to try getting hold of your doctor, and for just b/c you are curious – HealthTap is a great and free option…I’m excited to see where innovative companies like HealthTap will take healthcare in the next few years. I have a lot of hope that innovations will result in healthcare reduction costs and improvements in healthcare that will reverse our trend of out-of-control increases in health care costs.