It can be challenging to find the right doctor—not only someone who is skilled and knowledgeable, but also someone you can trust. You’re the best source of information that your doctor has about you, so it’s 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.
If you still come up empty, try these resources:
- Your health insurance plan’s provider list
- Your local hospital
- Search tools on the internet
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 a search engine – Use a search engine like Google or Bing to type in a doctor’s name and see what comes up. Make sure any results are for the same person, especially if it’s a common name. You can narrow your results by including location information and a specialty description. As with any information on the internet, it’s 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 doctors you’re considering.
- Visit the American Board of Medical Specialties – Find out if doctors are certified in their specialty area.
- Visit the Federation of State Medical Boards – Look up doctors’ licensing and verify their credentials, including certifications in specialty areas. You can also find information on any disciplinary actions taken against these doctors.
Take the time to check as many sources as possible before making a decision.
Interview the doctor and office staff
Once you have a list of candidates, you can narrow it down by talking with the doctor and the office staff. Call the office of the doctor you’re considering and let them know you’re looking for a new doctor and have a few questions. This can save you a lot of time by eliminating any who aren’t accepting new patients.
Questions for the office 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’s your office located? Is there adequate parking? Is there a charge for parking?
- Does your office offer telehealth services?
- What are the doctor’s qualifications for my specific treatment needs?
- What are the doctor’s areas of expertise?
- What certifications does the doctor have?
- What is the doctor’s availability for emergency or urgent care?
- How do I contact the doctor if I have questions or need help after hours?
- Does your office have a “patient portal” so I can review my medical records and results of any testing and communicate with my doctor using secure, HIPPA-compliant electronic communication?
- How often has the doctor performed the procedure I need?
- Is the doctor part of a group? Is there another doctor I can see if this doctor isn’t available?
- What measures will you take to protect my privacy?
- Will you charge me to send my medical records to other doctors?
Meeting with the doctor
After you have gathered most of the information you need from the office staff, you can also try to meet the doctor, either in person or by telemedicine. 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 doctor you’re considering. However, you may not want to eliminate a doctor from consideration because of her unavailability to talk with you. Most practices are extremely busy and may not have time to schedule this meeting.
If you do get the opportunity to talk with the doctor before you make your decision, you can ask some of the same questions that you asked the office staff, as well as more targeted questions about the doctor’s 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 rehospitalization?
Questions to ask yourself
After you have gathered more information from the doctor and the office staff, take some time to ask yourself the following:
- Do you feel more comfortable with a doctor who is male or female?
- Do you have compatible communication styles with this doctor?
- How was the doctor’s demeanor?
- Did the doctor talk too much? Not enough?
- Did the doctor ask you any questions?
- Did you feel rushed or unimportant?
Take good notes to compare the different doctors you’re considering.
Find the best hospital
When choosing doctors, it’s also important to consider which hospitals they use. If you have multiple hospitals in your area, you may prefer one over another. Sometimes, your health insurance may require you to 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, including the following:
- Medicare.gov – This site provides information on the quality of care at more than 4,000 Medicare-certified hospitals.
- myHealthFinder.com – This site has a search tool to help you find hospitals and doctors, 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 – This site rates hospitals.
Resources for finding doctors
- American Medical Association (AMA) DoctorFinder – A searchable database of doctors
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – Tips and tools such as questions to ask your doctors before, during, and after your appointments
- Healthgrades – A commercial site that can help you find healthcare professionals and some information about their credentials.
- Administrators in Medicine (AIM) – A tool for finding doctors using data from state licensing boards
- National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) – A site that can help you find doctors who meet specific criteria for standards of care