How to Find a Good Thyroid Doctor
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Reviewed by Thyroid Expert, Mary Shomon
As a thyroid patient, you’ve heard it before: the secret to solving your thyroid woes is to find a good thyroid doctor. Sounds easy enough, but the reality for many of us is that it’s not so easy, and the ‘find-a-good-doctor’ detail becomes a barrier between us and better health.
Finding a doctor who can truly help is a big roadblock for many hypothyroid patients who are frustrated with the conventional standard of care, which relies on TSH testing and treatment with synthetic thyroid hormone. While both TSH testing and synthetic thyroid hormone treatment are useful to thyroid treatment, they don’t show us the whole picture, or the full menu of options. Many patients are left with residual symptoms under this approach.
This is why holistic or functional practitioners are so often recommended. Trouble is, we don’t all live in areas with a wealth of health care options to choose from. And not all of us have the disposable income (or the desire) to pay out-of-pocket for holistic healthcare, while we’re also paying dearly for health insurance. Some of us don’t have insurance, some of us may live in a country with universal healthcare that does not cover holistic practitioners, and some of us are forced to choose in-network doctors covered by our insurance.
Online ‘find-a-doctor’ databases can be helpful but may offer limited options (scroll down for our favorite “find-a-doc” resources).
Then, there’s question numero uno: What is a good thyroid doctor anyway? What exactly does that mean?
What is a 'Good Thyroid Doctor'?
There is no cookie-cutter for what a good thyroid doctor is, but let’s define what it is we’re looking for, and discuss how to get past this common hurdle.
A good thyroid doctor will address these questions:
- Is my body absorbing or converting my medication?
- Is there another medication or medication combo that’s better for me?
- Are there underlying, root cause issues to my hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s?
- What about diet and lifestyle? How can they help?
- If my TSH is normal, why do I still feel poorly?
- May I have a complete thyroid panel that includes TSH, freeT3, free T4, reverse T3, and antibodies testing?
- Is my thyroid condition actually an autoimmune condition?
- If so, can you help me understand my autoimmune thyroid condition and how I can protect my thyroid and my health from worsening or compounding autoimmune conditions?
- Is my downward health spiral related to my thyroid issues, and what can I do to reverse the spiral?
If you’ve struggled to get answers to those questions from your doctor, you are not alone. I regularly hear stories from this patient community about being dismissed and diminished by doctors while people's health, lives, and careers fall apart.
Before I took the reins of my health, I was in the same boat. My healing journey required me to pay out-of-pocket to work with someone with a whole-health approach. While I resisted the added expense for a long time, it was life-changing from the first appointment, and within a few short months I went from being tired all day, every day, and sick all the time, to having my life and energy back.
You can’t put a price on that.
A Good Doctor vs. the Right Doctor
‘Good’ can be a murky term here, and words are important. Your healing mission is to find the right doctor, who can help you get and stay healthier. My general practitioner did the job she was trained and educated to do. She was diligent and did the things a conventional MD is supposed to do for thyroid patients, according to the established standard of care. When it came to my thyroid health, she took the standard approach: TSH testing and treatment with synthetic thyroid hormone (Levothyroxine), probably for the rest of my life.
By those standards, you could say my doctor was a good doctor, but she was not the right doctor to help me reclaim my health.
My story and my frustrations are not unique. Our doctors may be doing their job to its exact specifications, but the reality is that the standard approach to thyroid care fails a lot of us.
What got me unstuck was not an acceptance of my compromised state of health, but a paradigm shift in my treatment. It took a whole-health approach to help me get my life back. That is what holistic, naturopathic, functional, and integrative doctors specialize in.
Like so many other thyroid patients before me, my health was compromising my life, until I branched out from the conventional medical system, and made the choice to expand my personal healthcare team, and ultimately, find the right doctor for me.
A Word of Caution...
Just because a practitioner has the word 'functional' or 'integrative' or even 'doctor' in their title, doesn't necessarily mean they are a prescribing physician. If they can't prescribe your thyroid meds, that's a problem. While supplements have their place, be wary of those who promise to treat your thyroid issue with supplements alone, or over-the-counter thyroid glandulars.
The dosing of thyroid hormone is very specific and done in micrograms. That kind of accuracy (and safety) requires oversight and regulation. Over-the-counter supplements are not regulated by the FDA and typically aren't regarded by doctors as a safe, reliable, or effective way to manage your thyroid imbalance. Supplements can be helpful in managing symptoms and addressing issues like nutritional deficiencies, but most of us require regular thyroid testing and accurately dosed medication to thrive.
This proper testing and medication piece of the puzzle is foundational and should be considered Step 1 in your thyroid-healing journey. While not everyone you work with needs to be a prescribing physician, be sure you have one on your healthcare team.
What to Look for in a Thyroid Practitioner
First, have hope. There are professionals out there who can help, under every banner of medical philosophy (conventional, holistic, functional, integrative, etc.).
The search may take time, and you may have to kiss a few frogs, but if you stick with it, you will find the right doctor. This, perhaps more than any other step you take on your healing journey, is key to reaching your optimal state of health.
Here are some qualities to look for when evaluating potential doctors:
- They listen to you and the clues you give them about your health.
- They are willing to be your personal root cause detective.
- They assist you in getting the testing you need, like a complete thyroid panel, not just TSH. [Get 30% off Paloma's Complete At-Home Thyroid Panel HERE.]
- They search for the root cause of your symptoms, not just treatments.
- They are versed in multiple options for thyroid medication, like natural desiccated thyroid (NDT), synthetic T3 (like Cytomel), or alternative therapies like low-dose naltrexone (LDN).
- They don’t dismiss the residual symptoms that their prescribed medications are not addressing (or even causing).
- They don’t tell you that your symptoms are all in your head, or an inevitable part of aging, or your fault.
- They help you identify and address deficiencies, underlying infections, and other issues in order to maintain optimal health.
- They treat you, the whole human being, not just the lab results.
- They are a prescribing physician who can provide you with prescription thyroid medication.
Allopathic vs. Whole-health Care
Conventional MDs shouldn’t be categorically overlooked in your search, but before you start scouting, it is helpful to understand the fundamental difference between conventional and holistic care.
Allopathic physicians (i.e. conventional/traditional/Western doctors) are trained to treat diseases using drugs, surgery, or radiation. These modalities are incredibly important, useful, and life-saving. The allopathic model is backed by a high amount of regulation, drug testing, and scientific evidence.
While whole-health (or holistic) medicine may lack the body of scientific evidence, drug testing, and federal regulation that allopathic medicine boasts, it looks at the body as a whole system, rather than dividing it up into parts. Whole-health care also has the mission of maintaining and optimizing health, not just treating injury, illness, or disease.
Therein lies the fundamental difference in allopathic vs whole-health care: The first focuses on treatment, the second, on prevention.
Whole-health doctors utilize both traditional therapies (such as prescription drugs) and holistic therapies as part of an overall treatment approach, emphasizing disease prevention and health optimization. Treatment might include comprehensive testing, targeted supplements, dietary changes, and lifestyle changes, in addition to optimizing thyroid medication.
The specialties below each take their own approach, but share the common thread of viewing the body as a whole system:
Also worth noting (while outside the realm of what we might call ‘medical care’), functional, integrative, or holistic nutritionists can be incredibly helpful, as well as certified and reputable health coaches, acupuncturists, massage therapists, psychotherapists, hypnotherapists, and herbalists.
Having a team of experts to support your well-being is ideal. But remember: you are the captain of your get-well ship. As captain, you must inform each member of your health care team of all efforts being taken by other team members, because even things like herbs and essential oils can have powerful reactions, interactions, and side effects.
Where to Begin Your Search
Now that you have a better idea of what to look for, the next question is: where to begin?
- Your Health Insurance Provider or HMO: If you have health insurance or an HMO, they should have a directory (often online) listing the practitioners in your area who are covered under your policy or plan. More and more providers are beginning to cover ‘alternative’ doctors, so you may be pleasantly surprised.
- Do Your Research: Once you’ve gathered a few names, check them out online. Are there reviews? Do they have websites? What is their philosophy? And perhaps most importantly, do you know anyone who has seen them, and what did they think?
- Crowdsource: This is a perfect opportunity to put the power of social media to work. Put a post on your Facebook page if you have one: “Looking for a referral for a naturopath, integrative or functional MD, or DO in the Kalamazoo area. Any suggestions?” or “Have any of my Pensacola friends been to Dr. X? Please PM me and let me know what you thought.”
If your financial resources are limited, you may have to select a practitioner covered by insurance or one who is part of your HMO. As noted, most of these practitioners will tend to follow a more conventional, allopathic approach. If you can afford it, however, you may choose to pay out-of-pocket for a more innovative physician, who can possibly work in collaboration with your insurance-covered doctor.
What About Cost?
There are several strategies we can use to make whole-health care more affordable, but before we dive in, let’s try to dismantle some of the internal roadblocks many of us have around money when it comes to our health.
Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves (“I can’t afford that”) are just that: stories, built on limiting beliefs rather than firm truths. This can be especially common around the topic of money, where things like our net worth get muddled up with our self-worth. Sometimes, we make excuses not to prioritize our health. Sometimes, other priorities take true precedence – like putting food on the table.
I faced my own mental and financial roadblocks around finding the right doctor, and I know there’s no easy answer, but when we immediately dismiss the possibility of paying out of pocket for healthcare, it’s worth re-examining. When we value ourselves and value our health it becomes easier to find ways to re-budget. We begin to think, “Maybe there is a way.“
If your internal accountant is giving you a hard NO, ask yourself, why? What is my storyline around this? And is that story really true? It all boils down to you being able to make your health a priority. Can you? Will you? Do you?
Taking a closer look at our internal roadblocks is both free of cost and high value. What resources can you put towards better health? And how can you take those resources as far as possible?
A Few Money-saving Options:
- Books are a fantastic resource and can be checked out from the library. They’re not a substitute for proper medical care, but they are an important piece of any healing journey. I owe my success in large part to Izabella Wentz’s book, “Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Lifestyle Interventions for Finding and Treating the Root Cause”, which not only taught me about my condition but gave me a road-map to better health. I used the recommendations from her book to devise a game plan with my ND, and to use my insurance-covered MD for as much testing as possible. Reading about my condition (pre-appointment) saved a LOT of time and money at the doctor’s office.
- Preparation: Putting together a health history or ‘medical memoir’ will help you get clear on your biggest questions, concerns, and goals. It’s also a great way to track the results of interventions, like a change in medication, diet, or lifestyle. Doctor’s aren’t mind readers, and their schedules are often packed. They can’t just look at you and intuit what your needs are. It’s up to us to ask for the answers we want. A simple way to prepare is by keeping a collection place for notes on your smartphone, where you can record questions and bullet-points for your next doctor visit. Plus, your phone is usually with you, so you don’t have to remember one more thing. This extra bit of preparation can reduce your overall number of appointments and help you get way more bang for your buck.
- Free online resources abound, and although you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, there are some reliable (and free) articles and websites on thyroid health. As a starting point, check out Mary Shomon’s page on Health Central for a catalog of her articles.
- Paid online programs: Doctor-guided programs can carry a significant price tag, but in the long run may be lower cost than multiple out-of-pocket office visits. Check out protocols from Amy Myers MD (A Graves’ survivor) or Dr. Izabella Wentz (The Thyroid Pharmacist), which are designed to walk you through the more technical, medically oriented steps of healing. For a crash course on hypothyroidism that will teach you everything you need to know to better understand hypothyroidism, its causes, and treatment options, check out my Thyroid Tuneup Course, complete with an Owner's Manual for your thyroid, created in collaboration with Mary Shomon.
- Shop around for labs and supplements: Out-of-pocket doctors should be considerate of your out-of-pocket expense. My ND may recommend specific supplements (and dosage) from brands that are up to her quality standards but is always amenable to me choosing where I purchase them. Sometimes they’re cheaper online than in her office. The same goes for labs. Although my ND prefers to run her own tests from labs she works with regularly, she does her best to utilize any test results I provide her with. She has also helped me determine which, if any, tests I may be able to request from my insurance-covered GP. Your doctor’s priority should be getting you the help you need, not getting you to write bigger checks to their office. [Get 30% off Paloma's Complete At-Home Thyroid Panel HERE.]
- Ask your doctor about payment plans: Because alternative healthcare practitioners are usually not covered by insurance, some are willing to work on a sliding scale, or within a budget. Be clear with them about what you can spend, and see if they’ll collaborate with you on a workable treatment plan. Some holistic practitioners offer payment plans. Some clinics use a membership model where you pay a certain amount each month, and all office visits are included. Paying in installments like this can ease the budgeting process.
Finding My “Dr. Right”
It took 4 years of declining health and compounding health issues for me to hit rock bottom and seek whole-health medical care for my thyroid issues. It took an additional year to do a lot of research and asking around about who to see. There was one doctor, a naturopath, whose name kept coming up amongst friends and family. I gave her office a call and waited 2 months to get in for a new patient appointment.
My ND made it clear during the first appointment that she was happy to work within a budget, using a strategic plan that prioritized which tests were most urgent, and which could wait. She listened to my whole story, reviewed the health history I had prepared, and most comforting, she assured me that it was NOT normal to feel tired all day every day in my mid-thirties, and that we were going to get to the bottom of my health woes, together.
It wasn’t like any other doctor’s appointment I had been to. It was collaborative, vs authoritarian. It was the beginning of a partnership, focused on the mission of maintaining my optimal state of health. How I felt about treatments, mattered to her. How I felt in my body was validated. That first appointment took 90 minutes, and it was so refreshing that at one point I welled up with tears at the relief of feeling truly heard and believed.
No doctor, no matter how good, is going to do the work for you, but I can tell you with conviction that the search, the wait, the work, and yes, the out-of-pocket expense has been worth it.
After getting back my first round of test results and implementing some of my naturopath’s recommendations to address a previously unknown gut flora imbalance, my energy came back within 48 hours. It was like someone flicked on the lights after four years of feeling fatigued every day. I still get emotional just thinking about how quickly I started to feel better once I was on a whole-health treatment path.
My naturopath listens to me and encourages me to use a root cause approach: always searching for the reasons why things are off, instead of masking symptoms. Her professional advice has helped me implement changes slowly and successfully, peeling back layer after layer of my well-being like an onion. This slow-but-steady approach has helped me make diet and lifestyle changes that stick. It is, and always will be, a work in progress.
I still see my GP for regular checkups, and for as much testing as she's willing to do, both for thyroid and for general health monitoring. I understand the difference between her philosophy and my ND's, which helps me understand who to talk to about which issues. They're both a valued part of my health care team.
Today, I feel great. Not perfect. Not cured. But vibrant and alive. I feel medically supported and on the right track. I wouldn’t be able to say that if I hadn’t found the right medical professionals to help me.
If you'd like to begin searching for your Dr. Right, I hope the tips in this article have given you some direction and clarity on what to look for. These find-a-doctor databases can be a good place to start your search.
- Paloma Health specializes in connecting thyroid patients with medical doctors who have embraced a more functional/holistic standard of care. They have doctors in several states now and are adding more every day.
- Listing of Thyroid Top Docs from Mary Shomon’s Thyroid-Info.com (international)
- Find a Doctor Database from ThyroidChange.org (international)
- The Institute for Functional Medicine
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