How To Find a Doctor Who Will Meet Your Needs (And What Questions To Ask Them)

Having healthcare providers who are aligned with your goals and truly want to support is a key factor in promoting and advancing your health when you have a chronic illness. It is a critical factor in your healthcare experience that contributes to optimal quality of life.

These questions can help you get a better idea of whether your potential doctor or other healthcare provider is a good fit to address your chronic health symptoms and issues and ensure that they are willing to work with your to ensure the best quality of life. The focus on quality of life and symptoms can often be put on the backburner in cases like thyroid cancer for example, where your doctor's main goal might be to treat and monitor the cancer, and not so much on the symptoms that result after treatment.

Ideally, you have found one of those compassionate and collaborative health care providers out there who do exist and continue to provide wonderful care despite the restrictions often imposed on them. But if you are still looking for 'the one' or are navigating a less-than- collaborative provider, here are some things to consider.

Some mindset-shifting principles to consider:

  • Look at your healthcare provider as someone you are hiring. They get paid to treat and support you. Depending on where you are and the set-up, either they are billing the government (into which you are paying taxes) or you are paying directly. Either way, you are not forced to stick with a doctor or other healthcare provider simply because you were referred to them or they were the only ones without a waiting list. So asking them questions is well within the scope of your interaction.
  • Reflect on how you feel in your relationship with your provider. Societally, we tend to revere doctors and place them on pedestals. So they tend to have a lot of power and privilege (and sometimes arrogance) on their end. Unfortunately, this status quo isn't going to end overnight but it can be helpful to reflect on how you feel in your interactions with your providers and acknowledge if you're feeling. I know that my doctors intimidate me.
  • Identify ways to support yourself in the appointment. Often, when I reveal that I work at a neighbouring hospital or am doing my PhD, there is subtle shift in dynamic and they pay a little more attention. This is pretty awful and disgusting on the provider's end and I only share what I do for work when I feel like I need to try anything to be listened to. Another strategy I often use is bringing along a support person who can reinforce my message when necessary, provide emotional support and remind me of things I wanted to discuss. I almost always have a list of items I want to discuss but I have found that some providers aren't too happy when I produce my list of concerns and this can sometimes throw me off. More often than not, the list helps me have a reference. Being informed about your health condition will reflect in the questions you ask your provider and help you support your concerns. Again, I wish we didn't have to do all this strategizing around appointments!

Some questions you might want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Are you willing to work with me in collaboration and in partnership to better my health?
  • What is your point of view on nutrition and how it impacts health?
  • Do you consider food to be medicine? (You could tweak this so it is more digestible for biomedical healthcare practitioners who may be uneasy about this phrase - do you consider the food we eat to impact health?)
  • Are you willing to give me copies of my tests (thyroid, vitamins etc.) and go over them with me?
  • What are your thoughts on treating my body as a whole? And looking at symptoms related to thyroid issues - libido, sleep issues, chronic pain, chronic fatigue etc.?
  • How much time are you able to allocate to appointments and how often do you usually see patients with chronic illnesses or work with them? (This will often depend on the type of provider and where they work)

Some go-to phrases to resort to if needed: 

This is a technique I have recently been putting together after a recent interaction with a provider that left me feeling powerless and unheard. Some of these are specific to my situation but feel free to adapt them as needed and depending on how brave you are feeling in any given moment. Like with any productive discussion, using "I" language as much as possible can be helpful to center your concerns.

  • I feel like I am not being heard and I would really appreciate if we could take a moment to address my concerns.
  • I appreciate that you are monitoring my [thyroid cancer] but I would also like to talk about my quality of life. If there isn't time in this appointment, could we please book another appointment soon to discuss this further.
  • With respect, I disagree that my joint pain/sleep issues/mood swings are unrelated to my thyroid hormone levels and there is evidence to demonstrate the link and I would like to discuss other options to support my health and quality of life.

At the end of this all, it's likely that you won't get everything you need or desire from one provider, so it's important to intentionally build a circle of care around you in whatever way makes the most sense for you. I'm not referring to multiple specialist who are each dissecting your body and focused on one aspect of your body. When I did this, I have over 6-7 specialists all of whom prescribed different medications to me. I was sicker than ever and overwhelmed with appointments. I am referring to adding providers who are focused on getting to the root cause of your symptoms, looking at your body and mind as a whole, functional medicine practitioners, naturopaths etc. who complement your typical family doctor or endocrinologist.

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Nadha Hassen

Founder at Thyroid Transitions
Nadha is a health researcher and chronic illness advocate based in Toronto. A "thyroidless thriver", she strives to support people at all stages of their thyroid process. She is currently a PhD student and received her Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Toronto, specializing in Health Promotion.
Posted in Health Info, Tips, Strategies and Resources.

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