Navigating the medical maze: the search for the right doctor


Happy Friday everyone!!! It has been quite the week for me, getting back into hot yoga (already feeling the benefits of this exercise on my body and mind), started “The Myers Way” elimination diet, and am continuing my job search (I have decided to widen my search now to more junior level roles). Despite the body pain from yoga, and the cravings for salt and sugar, my body is feeling a bit better. Mentally, I’m feeling a bit down due to being unemployed, but trying to stay positive. Definitely excited for the weekend to turn off my brain and just relax 🙂

A friend of mine from high school sent me the following message (out of the blue) yesterday morning:

“Morning. Wondering if you could help… I’ve also forwarded your blog to her. A friend of a friend is looking for a fibromyalgia specialist in the area, from Hamilton. I said I would ask you. She’s has had an awful experience w her doc and is looking else where for support.”

To which I responded with the following:

“Morning Hun. Sorry for the delayed reply, was at yoga. Ugh. I have been there many times. Did you want to give her my email and phone number? The only time I’d suggest a rheumatologist is when looking for a diagnosis. Outside of that, I’d say find a really good family doctor who will listen to you and your wants and needs. She may need to go to a pain clinic like I do – that takes 6 months with a referral. If her doctor isn’t being helpful (mine isn’t either) I would suggest that she try to find a new doctor.”

First of all, it’s so nice to know that others are reading my blog, and passing it along to their family and friends. Secondly, it feels amazing to be in a position to potentially help others who are suffering like I am. Her friend is going to contact me via email, and I’m excited to be able to provide her with any guidance or support she may need.

After receiving Emily’s message yesterday morning, I have decided to change the subject of my post today, to navigating the medical maze (which we all know can be incredibly frustrating) and finding the right doctor for your health situation. I’m sure Emily’s friend isn’t the only one out there trying to find the proper medical care for their fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, anxiety and / or depression. I’ve had quite a bit of experience navigating the Ontario / Canadian medical system over the last 20+ years, and would love to provide some suggestions based on my experience.

While it may seem like a trivial matter, the doctor-patient relationship is actually one of the most intimate and important relationships there is. In fact, it’s considered sacred by physicians and valued above all else in medicine. Doctors are among the few professionals we interact with in an open, exposed, and completely vulnerable way and they also have a tremendous influence on our health and well-being.

That’s why finding the right doctor should be a top priority. While it will take some time and research on your part, the payoffs are worth it—nothing beats the security of knowing that you have a trusted relationship with a doctor who can help you make important decisions about your own health.

I will use fibromyalgia as an example, since I have a lot of experience around this subject. If you have fibromyalgia, you will need to work closely with your doctor to manage it. First, you need an accurate diagnosis, then you need an effective treatment plan for your illness. As you know, I have been living with this illness for over 20 years and I still haven’t found an effective treatment plan, and that’s partly due to the fact that I don’t have the best doctor, partly because Canada’s health care system isn’t focused on preventative care and instead shoving medication down your throat to cover up the symptoms, there hasn’t been a proven treatment yet for fibromyalgia, and lastly, in my experience our doctors here are not educated enough around this illness, even the specialists like rheumatologists. This has caused me SO many frustrations over the years, and as Emily’s friend has stated, she is in the same boat. I’m sure many of you can relate, whether you have fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, scoliosis, or another chronic illness.

To choose a fibromyalgia specialist, some people ask friends for recommendations. Others check a doctor’s credentials or call the local hospital for referrals. Neither one of these methods is foolproof. Finding a qualified professional with whom you can feel comfortable sharing your innermost feelings and concerns about your fibromyalgia will take time and effort. One of the most important steps to take when selecting a health care professional is to know yourself. That includes knowing your personal likes and dislikes – do you feel more comfortable with a man or woman? Do you want a doctor to be older than you, the same age, or younger? Do you have a preference of educational background? Consider these questions when making your selection.

What type of doctor should you see for fibromyalgia?

The first thing to do is talk to your primary care doctor (General Practitioner or Family doctor). As your primary doctor, they can best assess your problems and make the necessary referrals to a fibromyalgia specialist – such as a rheumatologist or neurologist. If you don’t have a family doctor, or you’re having trouble with your current doctor, I have listed ways to go about finding a new doctor below:

Step One: Gather Names of Potential Doctors

Nothing compares to the real-life insight of people you trust, so start by soliciting doctor recommendations from friends and family. Once you’ve gotten a few names (or if your request hasn’t turned up any good leads), take to the Internet.

I was able to get names of trusted doctors from a friend who also has fibro whom I met in a fibro support group. This has been a helpful way for me to find a decent doctor. 

There are numerous sites to help find and grade physicians. Simply search for “primary care physician” in your given city and province or state to find a list of results. Below are six sites which allow you to search by city and specialty:

1. BetterDoctor.com

2. DocFinder

3. HealthGrades.com

4. Vitals.com

6. ZocDoc.com

In Ontario, I would suggest navigating to the following site:

http://www.ontario.ca/page/find-family-doctor-or-nurse-practitioner

In the last 20 years I have gone through about eight Family Doctor’s or GP’s, and I didn’t trust, or agree with a SINGLE ONE. I currently have a new GP that was given to me when my last one moved, and she is fresh out of medical school (which is a good and bad thing) and every time I have an appointment with her I leave feeling very frustrated and annoyed. I only see her to get a prescription refill for my antidepressant, and my annual PAP tests, other than that, I try to avoid having to make an appointment. In my current situation, I don’t have an immediate need for a new GP because I don’t see her that often. If I get to a point where I need to see her more often, I will go looking for a new doctor. Doctors are hard to come by in Ontario – there is a very long waiting list for individuals who do not have family doctors and are waiting to be assigned one. SO, I’d rather have a crummy doctor than no doctor at all and end up at the walk in clinic every time I needed to see one.

Step Two – Vet Each Potential Doctor

Now that you have a list of doctors who might fit your criteria, it’s time to do some deeper digging. Here are the six primary considerations you should have when researching a new physician.

1. Doctor Expertise
Cardiologists, neurologists, gastroenterologists—the list goes on. There are so many specialists out there; which one to choose? For general care, it’s best to first find a physician trained in Family Medicine or Internal Medicine (both referred to as Primary Care Physicians or General Practitioners), who can help decide if a specialty physician is necessary. Often a referral is needed from a primary care provider to see a specialist anyway.

2. Board Certification
Bad doctors do exist, and having one is potentially worse than having no doctor. Although “bad” is subjective and can be difficult to determine on paper, every province has its own medical license registry online which will list any serious offenses by a physician. While physicians can have a medical license without being board-certified in a specialty, board certification can provide some “quality assurance”: It means the physician has passed a national licensing exam in their specialty and is considered an expert in that area.

3. Location and Availability
Things to inquire about include: general office hours, extended office hours, (particularly nights and/or weekend availability), and ability to schedule same-day visits. Some doctors split their time between different practice locations, so call to inquire if this will be an issue. Available appointments an hour away are not very helpful!

4. Doctor Style
Keep in mind that a doctor will be privy to some of your most personal information, so it is important to make sure your personality and communication styles match. The best way to determine this is to actually see the physician for an appointment—if you are not happy with their care taking after a visit or two, don’t be afraid to jump ship. Don’t settle if you feel like you don’t have a good foundation for a relationship. It’s too important.

5. Office Amenities and Overall Experience
Consider waiting room times, amenities, and front staff personas. Some offices have wait time policies to ensure patients are seen within a certain amount of time of their scheduled appointment. However, remember that punctuality can be a two-way street (meaning that late arrivals may not be seen if the scheduled time is strictly followed). Lastly, consider the personalities of the office staff, since significant time and interactions occur with them. All of these factors will impact the overall experience.

What types of doctors specialize in treating fibromyalgia and pain?

1. Rheumatologists diagnose and treat arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones. This includes fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, bursitis and tendonitis.

2. Pain specialists are normally board certified anesthesiologists, neurologists, physiatrists, psychiatrists, or oncologists with additional training in pain management.

3. Neurologists diagnose and treat disorders of the nervous system. This includes treating common pain problems such as headaches, back pain, muscle disorders, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, and reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

4. Orthopaedists specialize in the diagnosis, clinical treatment, and surgical repair of bone injuries. They also treat muscle problems and joint tissues.

5. Psychologists diagnose and provide therapy for problems associated with pain, perception, depression and anxiety.

I will go into more detail in later posts around what types of doctors helped me, and how.

I went through three rheumatologists who just wanted to prescribe me with medications that covered up my symptoms, and gave me horrible side effects, so I gave up on that side of the medical system a LONG time ago. They were fine for diagnosing my fibromyalgia (3-4 times just to be sure! lol) but that’s about it.

I am now onto my third pain specialist – the first one was absolutely disgusting, to the point where I had to send a complaint to the Ontario Medical Association about him (a few others apparently did as well and he no longer works at the clinic). The second one was absolutely fantastic, but he switched clinics after six months. My current doctor is amazing – she listens, she’s supportive, she sends me to specialists and tests if I need them, and doesn’t talk to me like I’m an idiot (like a LOT of doctors have done to me in the past). I will hang on to her for as long as I can!

I saw three different naturopaths in the past (who I found through a friend, and online by searching for the best naturopath for fibromyalgia in Toronto), and they were all great, but I just didn’t feel as though they were getting to the heart of the matter.

I have seen several other doctors – psychologists, physiotherapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and the list goes on, but I don’t consider them a part of my daily medical care.

ONE THING I have learned over the years is that nobody is looking out for your health, except for you. You need to be your own advocate, do your research and fight for the care that you need. Everyone has a right to proper healthcare, so make sure you get it.

Once you have found the right doctor, I would suggest doing the following at your appointments:

1. Be prepared. Write down all of the questions you have before you go into the appointment. Write down the answers as the doctor answers your questions. You may want to audio record the conversation and play it back later (ask first).

2. Keep good records. Get photocopies of your medical file consisting of tests the doctor orders, exams, blood work results, drug suggestions, treatment options, etc.

3. Bring a friend or loved one. It’s helpful to have your own personal health advocate with you, a friend or loved one who can take notes, remind you of questions you forgot to ask, and help you remember afterward exactly what the doctor said. The emotional support is helpful, as dealing with these types of illnesses can be very stressful.

4. Be assertive. Make sure you get all of your questions answered. If the doctor doesn’t have time to tell you everything you want to know, make a second appointment. This is your health, you have a right to be informed.

5. Treat the office staff well. This goes without saying, but thought I’d mention it anyways. Your doctor is your primary care physician, however, the rest of the team is helping you as well – the nurse, the person who takes your blood, the person who answers the phone and keeps the schedule, and the receptionist.

6. Treat your doctor well (however, if they don’t treat you well, find someone else!) How you come into the appointment will affect your doctor’s response, just the way your attitude would affect anyone else you’re dealing with. If you show up friendly, positive and willing to engage with your doctor, they will be far more likely to respond in kind.

7. Be honest with your physician. If you don’t believe something your doctor says, or is suggesting will in fact help, or make a difference to your health, speak up and tell them. Ask your doctor for studies that back up their points. If you suggest something that they don’t agree with, show them the proof and the studies to back up your research. This is your health, you have a right to the best type of care.

8. Don’t give up. Whatever your experiences with the medical maze, PLEASE don’t give up. Individuals like myself have seen dozens of doctors, and only a tiny percentage have been helpful. Believe that there is the right help out there, you just have to find it.


I have never given up on fighting for my health, since when it comes down to it, if you don’t have your health, you really have nothing. Our Canadian health care system has a LONG way to go in treating chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia. This is why I see the doctors here that do help, and then do my own research and treatments based on my findings. Hopefully as time goes by, our doctors will become better educated in order to treat these illnesses properly.

Although I am still in the process of navigating this medical maze myself, hopefully my suggestions above will help some of you find a good doctor, and work well with that doctor to start feeling better again.

Feel free to leave details of your experiences below around navigating the medical maze, I would love to hear from you!

Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Xoxo Lex

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