Dr Pamela Prince Pyle

How to Find a Good Doctor: Part II

We have been discussing the journey of Jim as he was diagnosed with a terminal disease but given very little information when first diagnosed. He was forced to turn to the internet as a source for knowledge. 

Living in the information age is both a blessing and a curse. Dr. Google will report millions, and sometimes billions of results for any given diagnosis. There is a staggering amount of scientific and “not so scientific” knowledge only a few clicks away. If you or your loved one have been diagnosed with a serious illness like Jim, you may wonder how to find the best sources. What are the best ways to be informed and not be overwhelmed? How do you find a needle in a haystack? 

Serious Diagnosis

I have discovered that this wealth of information can be a helpful resource once a person has a definitive clinical diagnosis.  There should be a vetting process for each website visited. 

  • Non-profit organizations such as www.cancer.org are generally credible. Look for websites that end with .org, .gov, or.edu. These extensions represent non-profits, government entities, and education centers respectively.
  • Avoid websites with commercial bias. A website may have content about cancer and yet focuses on one therapy. 
  • Avoid websites that are ranked at the top of page and are identified as sponsored. This reflects a paid position on the page or in other words, an advertisement. 
  • Evaluate the motivation or purpose of the website. Is it marketing or educational? The About Us or About this Site section frequently speaks to the motivation. Many sites may appear educational but are directing you to a certain action.
  • Beware of the science. It is easy to promote “scientific research” when in fact there is very little resembling science. The “gold standard” for scientific research is a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Many patients enrolled in any given study meeting this requirement increases the validity of the study. 
  • Proceed with caution when you see claims of a secret ingredient, scientific breakthrough, miracle cure, or ancient remedy. Also beware when a money-back guarantee is offered, or one product treats multiple issues. 
  • Proceed with caution with words like “natural” or “organic”. Unless a product is one-hundred percent organic, these words mean nothing. 

Even then, knowledge, in the absence of wisdom, can be difficult to interpret at best, and harmful at worst. Combining a holistic approach from the wisdom of a trusted clinician with the information from reliable online resources will help you and your loved ones to become your best health advocates. But how do you find a “trusted clinician” or the elusive zebra among a herd of horses?

Trust is Borrowed or Earned

We trust people we know. As children we trust most people. However, with life and living in a fallen world it doesn’t take too long to experience betrayal whether real or imagined. With each of these life lessons we become more guarded. Trust becomes something sought, earned, and valued. 

There are two main methods for trusting a person, or entity. The first is based upon the testimony of those we trust. I will call this borrowed trust.

In the context of finding a “trusted clinician”, asking those you trust who they recommend is an example of borrowed trust. While we each may turn to our friends and family for this question, we can also look to other trustworthy individuals for answers. For example, asking a primary care clinician who they see as their clinician will give you some insight. Or perhaps ask your dentist which doctors they see. Attorneys who work in malpractice claims will often know clinicians to avoid and may share who they see. Nurses, radiology technicians, and hospital workers have unique insights to the good and the bad. 

Earned trust takes time but ultimately is more valuable. It is achieved through positive experience on a repetitive basis. It does not always imply good results or good outcomes. It is a belief that the clinician is always acting with good intentions and in your best interests. Review the qualities of a good clinician from my last post and asses if they are present in your doctor-patient relationship. If it isn’t, it is time to look elsewhere. 

It Takes Time

If you have not found your “zebra” as discussed in Part I , and your borrowed trust providers aren’t taking new patients, what should you do? Consider the following:

  • Extend your geographical search. It’s normal to want your doctor to be close for many reasons including convenience. But most patients see their doctors on a non-emergent basis every three, six, or twelve months. Traveling further to a provider that you trust may be worth the cost of extended travel times.
  • If the doctor that you wanted to try has a full patient roster, ask if they have a physician extender in the office. These are called physician assistants or nurse practitioners They are present in most clinical practices and the extenders are under physician supervision. You can also ask if the physician has a waiting list for new patients.
  • Some practices are affiliated with training programs or are in areas with medical training programs. Recent graduates from residency and fellowship programs often stay in areas local to their education and are anxious to fill their days with patients. Freshly graduated trainees are commonly excellent clinicians especially when considering a primary care physician. 
  • Consider a health maintenance organization (HMO) as your insurance and care providers. The gatekeepers of an HMO are primary care physicians who delegates to specialists based upon need. Make sure you understand their process and costs for in-network and out-of-network care. 
  • Most hospitals have a website and a feature for finding affiliated doctors. The process to obtain hospital privileges is rigorous and may provide a benchmark for basic qualifications. 
  • For minor issues you can utilize urgent care facilities or telehealth services. One example of the latter is available at Doctor on Demand. Remember this is a temporary solution until you find your trusted clinician. 
  • Ask your insurance company or Medicare for recommendations. Your insurance company will most likely have a website with a finding a doctor in your area feature. You can also go to the following websites for clinicians in your area:

Jim had a negative experience with the physician who gave him his diagnosis. But with time, he ultimately found the right doctor that provided him with the answers he needed. It takes time to find the right clinicians. Even if you are healthy now, it is good to begin the process. One day you may need someone you trust to help you navigate a serious diagnosis. Becoming a health advocate for yourself or someone you love will give you wisdom when you need it most. 

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