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.

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.

Health Care / Insurance Options.

U.S. Health Insurance Status (Under 65)
U.S. Health Insurance Status (Under 65) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduction

January 31st  is my last day as a benefited employee with Cairn University, February 1st is my first day full-time for Calvary Community Church of Penndel. One of the biggest considerations this involves is the change in my health insurance. For the last several years I have been blessed with a generous health insurance plan from Cairn University, now moving to a small church – the challenges of health insurance rest on my shoulders. So how should I proceed? I figured I’d share what I’ve learned in my research process thus far.

Conversion Insurance?

Conclusion: Too Expensive.

One option, including in Pennsylvania, is to convert one’s existing group/employer insurance into individual insurance. I talked to Keystone Independence Blue Cross – my current insurer and was informed insurance would cost around $600/mo. to maintain via conversion. Yup, a little higher than I’d like to pay.

Spouse Insurance?

Conclusion: Too Expensive.

Charity works full-time and has medical benefits, so another popular option would be to hop on to her plan. While she receives great subsidized benefits through her employer, the employer doesn’t appear to offer any subsidies for spouses, so the cost for the insurance would be slightly under $600/mo.

Other Options?

Conclusion: Not Eligible.

Another option is to look for a brand new individual insurance provider. One popular guide in this area is ehealthinsurance. I’m presented with plans from Aetna, Independence Blue Cross, HealthAmericaOne, and UnitedHealthOne. Prices start at $49/mo. and range up to $262/mo. Not bad, but I wonder if my pre-existing conditions will cause rates to race through the roof.

Update: I did look into plans through ehealthinsurance and after a significant waiting period (a few weeks) received a polite notice from Independence Blue Cross that my application was denied “based on your medical history…” The notice did inform me that I was eligible for some guaranteed coverage plans (but looks like premiums would be around $500/mo.) and for the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan but this program is a government program which has been suspended.

Some folks who have lower income may also qualify for other options such as the IBX Special Care program.

Health Cost Sharing?

My final option is health cost sharing – this isn’t strictly speaking health insurance. Rather it is a non-profit that coordinates cost sharing amongst its membership. There are three major providers in the United States – and all three are Christian organizations.

Medi-Share / Christian Care Ministry

This is probably the largest non-profit health care cost sharing program. It was founded in 2003 and currently has 49,500 members. The website is slick, as is their process which is fairly streamlined. Costs are relatively low at $166/mo. for a single individual.

(And yes, I do get $200 for each referral I send to Medi-Share…that is pretty cool)

Samaritan Ministries International

Currently has over 21,000 members and was founded in 1991. Pricing is $150/mo. for an individual. Seems to be fairly manual and old-school in its methods of cost distribution.

Christian Healthcare Ministries

This organization is the one I’ve heard the least about – but apparently Mike Huckabee likes them. They seem to have the most generous provisions regarding pre-existing conditions and their “Gold Level” for an individual is $150/mo.

ObamaCare?

I also realize that ObamaCare is soon coming onto the playing field. In October of this year (2013) we can expect exchanges to open and health insurance to become more widely available and affordable (in part due to government subsidies). It seems to me that whatever choice I make, it is likely that it will be dramatically affected by what happens in October 2013 and that I’ll need to shop again around that time.

Conclusion

I’m really attracted to the non-profit sharing model – I like the idea of helping others and I’m a fan of non-profit health insurance. While the sharing model isn’t health insurance, it is similar in some ways. I’m leaning towards using them, but am also going to do due diligence with one or two of the recommendations from eHealthInsurance as well. I’m particularly interested in an account with Independence Blue Cross, as I’d like to keep my access to their electronic health records interface, and I am familiar with their process.

General Health Insurance Bibliography

 Medical Cost Sharing Bibliography

 

In my research I used the following search terms among others: health coop, nonprofit health insurance, nonprofit healthcare, nonprofit health insurance cooperative, health insurance, healthcare cost sharing.