Three Tips to Find the Best Doctor for You (And Get the Most Out of Your Time and Money)
Finding a good functional doctor who understands your chronic illness is something I, unfortunately, know all too well.
In the four years that I’ve been dealing with gut issues and chronic illness, I’ve seen five conventional Gastroenterologists, three Nutritionists, and one Registered Dietitian.
It’s been a journey, folks. And finding a medical professional that will work with me and actually get to the root of all my symptoms, has been one of the biggest hurdles.
That’s why I wanted to give you some insight into how I’ve learned (through trial and error, for sure) to pick a medical professional that will get me the most health for the least dollar (can I get an amen?!).
Seeing specialists and functional medicine practitioners is certainly not cheap - and this is probably the number one reason why many people with chronic health issues attempt to go it alone and use the free resources available on Dr. Google.
And I can’t judge you for this, because you better believe that I’ve been there too. But, I will tell you that the best and fastest improvements that I’ve seen in my health have come when I teamed up with a healthcare expert who actually had experience treating people like me.
Healthcare professionals who have experience in the particular area you’re struggling with are truly priceless resources to utilize along your healing journey. But, if you sign up to work with the wrong one, it can easily turn you off to working with anyone else in the future.
So, to help you avoid the pitfalls of working with a bad practitioner, here are my top three tips to finding a doctor who will actually help you get healthy again!
Tip #1: Determine Your Goals
This one is super important, and a step that a lot of us probably overlook - especially at the beginning of our journey, I know I did.
When I first found myself not feeling well and really in need of some medical assistance, I did the only thing I knew to do with GI symptoms - go to a conventional Gastroenterologist.
I knew enough to know that my symptoms were made worse by consuming FODMAP containing foods, but that was about it. I really had no idea what was wrong with me, or how to make it better.
So, for me at that stage in my journey, a conventional GI doctor was the right choice, and really the only choice I knew how to make.
But, despite his best efforts I’m sure, this man was in way over his head. The only things I left his office with were a sheet of paper I’d already printed out at home explaining the low-FODMAP diet, and a huge medical bill.
And I don’t really blame him. My case was beyond his scope of practice - which was more suited to routine endoscopies and cancer screenings. I didn’t know what I wanted out of a doctor, so he didn’t really know what to give me.
Flash forwards four years and I’m working with the best practitioner I’ve ever worked with, and my health is the best it’s been in these four years.
This is due in part to my understanding of what I needed out of a practitioner, and what type of person I knew could help me move one step closer to full healing.
At this point in my journey, I had been there done that with all the gut treatments, so I didn’t want just another practitioner that was only going to focus on my gut.
I wanted someone who was going to take a different, more whole-body approach, to my health - something that I hadn’t tried before.
And because I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish with my new health teammate, I was able to find someone perfectly suited to help me accomplish those goals.
Before you even start to look for a doctor or other medical professional, I’d recommend that you take a few days and really think about your health goals and what you want to accomplish.
If you’re at the beginning of your journey and you’re not really sure what’s going wrong, but definitely want to get to the root of your health issues, a general functional medicine doctor, nutritionist, or naturopath are probably good places to start.
If you’re not feeling well, but just want a quick fix and to be able to get back on your feet as soon as possible, a conventional doctor is probably what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for help with your diet and lifestyle factors that could be contributing to your symptoms a health coach, dietitian, or nutritionist would be great teammates for you.
If you’ve become an expert at knowing what’s going on in your body and you know what’s wrong but just need a professional to guide you through a protocol to fix it, look for a naturopath, functional medicine doctor, or nutritionist who specializes in your condition to partner with.
Knowing what you need at each stage in your healing journey will help you immensely in being able to partner with someone who can successfully help you move on to the next stage and get that much closer to healing!
Tip #2: Sometimes It Takes a Team
Your body is a system of interconnected parts, so your healthcare needs to work that way too.
But, unfortunately, our western medical system doesn’t always work like this, and it can be difficult to actually determine the root cause of symptoms by just seeing one doctor.
For example, hair loss can be a symptom of PCOS, Hashimotos, or nutrient deficiencies from a gut infection.
And in our western medicine model that means making appointments with a Gynecologist, Endocrinologist, and a Gastroenterologist - way too many “ologists” for someone trying to make the best use of their money while still working to get better.
What I’ve found useful in order to deal with my body and my health concerns as a whole is do one of two things - either make a team of conventional medicine doctors (like the ones listed above), or work with a functional medicine practitioner who is more likely to have specialized training in more than one body system.
There have been many times throughout my healing journey where I’ve been working closely with a functional practitioner online, and then taking that information to my Gastroenterologist for her oversight (and prescription writing power) as well.
And even if you do know that most of your health issues stem from one system (like your gut), issues in one body system can easily affect many others (like your hormones).
Which is another great reason to make sure that you have a team of people, or one well-qualified person watching out for any “cause and effect” issues that might pop up.
In my own health journey I’ve focused primarily on fixing the overgrowths and bacterial imbalances in my gut - just letting my other body systems, like my endocrine system, get dragged along kicking and screaming.
This plan seemed like it was working, until those kicking and screaming body systems started having issues of their own - which very well could have been prevented if I were working with a team that had the best interest of my entire body, not just my gut, in mind.
And yes, teams of medical professionals will be more expensive than just one practitioner. But take it from someone who has spent the last 10 months dealing with issues that are a result of focusing too heavily on one area of the body while blissfully ignoring the storm brewing in others, that it’s totally worth it.
Working on taking care of your whole body upfront will save you a lot of heartache and money in the end - and will probably get you to a place of complete health a whole lot quicker!
Tip #3: Your Medical Professional Doesn’t Have to Be Nearby
This is another tricky one to get used to, especially if you’re just starting out.
But let me encourage you by saying this: I’ve found the most success and have made the most improvements in my health by working with practitioners I’ve found online.
The first nutritionist that I ever worked with was local, and while I am so thankful for her because she provided me with my diagnosis of SIBO, she also instilled in me a lot of fear and unnecessary restriction around foods that were not aligned with the diet protocol she put me on.
She wasn’t necessarily an expert or focusing her practice on SIBO and the treatment of gut related disorders, so her approach to my treatment look more like what a practitioner would learn in their schooling rather than what clinical experience would provide.
When you’ve focused your health practitioner search around the 30 mile radius near where you live, there are only a certain number of professionals that you’ll be able to reach. And the chances of them having expertise in the area that you’re looking to regain health in is usually not the greatest.
Even for me, living in the greater Atlanta area, I’ve found it extremely difficult to find a health practitioner who specializes in the areas that I need addressed.
But, when you expand your search to the world wide web, you have a much greater probability of finding someone who has worked with clients just like yourself, and who has clinical experience in successfully treating people with your condition.
Working with someone online also allows you to be extremely picky about who you work with, and I’ve found that the more specialized the practitioner is, the better they will be able to treat you.
If you’re struggling with your gut health, do a quick google search for nutritionists or dietitians that specialize in treating gut health clients. You’ll probably find way more practitioners than you’d ever need, and now you just have the task of narrowing down who you’d be best suited to work with (To pick the person I want to team up with, I usually look at what their interests are, who they’ve treated in the past, and how much they charge).
I’ve also had a lot of success in finding my next health care professional by listening to podcasts. Many times nutritionists, dietitians, or functional doctors who run an online practice will either host their own show or be featured on other podcasts. This is a great opportunity to be able to get a feel for that person’s ideas, how they run their practice, and if they’d be able to help someone with your specific symptoms and conditions.
I use podcasts as basically a free screening tool to help me learn more about how someone goes about treating clients, and it really helps me determine if their approach would likely work for me.
Online practices are becoming so much more popular today, and are really very similar to meeting with someone in person (especially with the addition of video conferencing). And while it is sometimes extremely valuable to be able to have a doctor lay hands on you, if you’re not having much success locally, it doesn’t hurt to expand your search!
Resources for Finding a Practitioner
Lastly, I wanted to provide you with a few online resources that might be helpful for you in finding a practitioner who is truly the right fit for you and your condition.
Here’s a search tool to help you find a practitioner who has completed Chris Kresser’s ADAPT program. These practitioners went through the Kresser Institute’s year long training program and are trained to be holistically minded to get down to the root cause of your illness.
Here’s a list of practitioners who have all been certified though Mark Sisson’s Primal Health Coach Institute. Any type of health professional can get this certification, even personal trainers, so not everyone on this list will be a good fit for you.
Here’s a search tool to help you find a Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist near you.
Here’s a search tool to help you find a certified Functional Medicine Practitioner in your area.
Some other types of medical professionals who may be helpful at determining the root cause of your health issues (outside of the traditional western medical doctors) are:
holistic health coaches
functional medicine doctors
Chinese medicine doctors
The Bottom Line
Finding a medical professional who is the right fit for you and your symptoms can make a huge difference in your health, and the amount of time and effort it takes you to start feeling better.
But, working with someone just because they’re in your area or were recommended by a friend, without really knowing what you need out of a health teammate, isn’t always the best option.
There are so many qualified practitioners out there, and in the case of many nutritionists and health coaches, they’re also people who have once been in your shoes with chronic illness in need of professional help.
Don’t settle for less than exactly what you need when it comes to working with someone on your health. And I hope that these tips will make a difference for you when it comes to choosing the right person to get you one step closer to feeling like yourself again!