It can be challenging to find the right doctor - not only someone who is skilled and knowledgeable, but also someone you can trust. You are the best source of information that your doctor has about you, so it is critical that you feel comfortable telling your healthcare provider anything that could help with your diagnosis and treatment.
One of the best ways to find a doctor is by getting recommendations from family and friends as well as your other doctors - even your dentist! If you feel comfortable with your dentist, chances are he or she will have similar preferences when choosing his or her own healthcare provider.
If you still come up empty, try these resources:
- Your health insurance plan’s provider list
- Your local hospital
- Search tools on the Internet (Click here for resources)
After you’ve found a few doctors to consider you can learn more about them by checking their credentials on the Internet. Try the following:
- Type the doctor’s name into search engine - for example, Google - to see what comes up. Make sure any results are for the same person, especially if it is a common name. You can narrow your results by including location information and a specialty description. As with any information on the Internet, it is very important to note the source and carefully review the information you find - positive or negative - with a critical eye, especially grades, evaluations and comments about the physicians you are considering.
- Visit the American Board of Medical Specialties to find out if the healthcare provider is certified in his or her area of specialty.
- Federation of State Medical Boards is a portal to the medical board in your state where you can check on a physician’s licensing and verify his or her credentials, including certifications in specialty areas. You can also find information on any disciplinary actions taken against the provider.
Take the time to check as many sources as possible before making a decision.
Interview the Office Staff and the Healthcare Provider
Once you have a list of candidates you can narrow it down by talking with the staff and the healthcare provider. Call the office of the doctor you are considering and let them know you are looking for a new doctor and have a few questions. This can save you a lot of time by eliminating any who are not accepting new patients.
Questions for the Staff
Consider asking the office staff the following questions:
- Are you taking new patients?
- Do you accept my insurance?
- Which hospitals do you use? (Your health insurance plan may require that you use a specific hospital or you may have a preference.)
- How far in advance do I have to make an appointment?
- What days of the week does the doctor see patients and during what hours?
- Where is your office located? Is there adequate parking? Is there a charge for parking?
- What are the provider’s qualifications for my specific treatment needs?
- What are his or her areas of expertise?
- What certifications does the provider have?
- What is the provider’s availability if I have an emergency or need urgent care?
- If I have a question or need help after hours, how do I contact the provider?
- How often has the provider performed the procedure I need?
- Is the provider part of a group? Is there another doctor I can see if this provider is not available?
- Do you and the doctor respond to emails?
- What measures will you take to protect my privacy?
- Will you charge me to send my medical records to other doctors?
Meeting with the Healthcare Provider
After you have gathered most of the information you need from the staff you can also try to meet the healthcare provider, either in person or by phone. It will give you the opportunity to ask more specific questions about the practice’s general approach to diagnosis and treatment and if you feel comfortable talking with the healthcare provider you are considering. However, you may not want to eliminate a healthcare provider from consideration because he or she is not available to talk with you. Most practices are extremely busy and may not have time available to schedule this type of meeting.
If you do get the opportunity to talk with the healthcare provider before you make your decision, you can ask some of the same questions that you asked the staff as well as more targeted questions about his or her training and experience:
- How do you treat patients similar to me?
- How many times have you done this procedure?
- How successful is your practice in comparison to national statistics?
- Where do I have to go for my blood work and other tests?
- Is it okay if I bring someone with me to my appointment?
- How do you feel about second opinions?
- Who will you collaborate with or ask if you have questions about my condition?
- What benefits can I expect from your services? Longevity? Symptom relief? Fewer medications? Decreased risk of re-hospitalization?
Questions to Ask Yourself
After you have gathered more information from the healthcare provider and his or her staff, take some time to ask yourself…
- Do you feel more comfortable with a doctor who is male? Female?
- Do you have compatible communication styles with this provider?
- How was his or her demeanor?
- Did he or she talk too much? Not enough?
- Did the provider ask you any questions?
- Did you feel rushed or unimportant?
Take good notes so you can compare all the different healthcare providers you are considering.
Finding the Best Hospital
When you are choosing healthcare providers it’s also important to consider which hospitals they use. If you have multiple hospitals in your area, you may prefer one over another, and in some cases, your health insurance may require that you use a particular hospital with possible exceptions for emergencies.
You can find out more about hospitals in your area by reviewing lists of ratings from a variety of sources. Here a few good places to start:
- Medicare.gov Hospital Compare provides information on the quality of care at over 4,000 Medicare-certified hospitals.
- Healthfinder.gov has a search tool to help you find hospitals as well as healthcare providers, including dentists! It can also help you find community health centers, home health care, hospice care, long-term care, and nursing homes.
- U.S. News & World Report rates hospitals.
Resources for Finding Doctors
Tips and tools such as questions to ask your doctors before, during, and after your appointments.