Choosing a doctor is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your health. Whether you already have a doctor or are trying to find a new one, it can be stressful and overwhelming to determine whether your doctor is the right “fit” for you and your health needs. While attributes like being likable, empathetic, and caring are important, it’s necessary to assess the level of competency your doctor has in treating your specific health issues, especially if you’re dealing with a serious, complex health condition that will require ongoing care. Ultimately, you’ll want a doctor who has the training and expertise in your specific health condition to provide quality care to help you get better.
“Competency” refers to having the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job effectively, which comes from training and experience. Competent doctors tap into their expertise in order to interpret a health situation in the most relevant, appropriate manner — especially during emergencies. They have the intellectual skills to make difficult diagnoses, as well as the emotional intelligence to collaborate and effectively lead a team of healthcare professionals. Staying up-to-date on the latest research and advances in technology is also important criteria when evaluating a doctor’s competency.
Information to look for
When assessing a doctor’s level of competency, it’s essential to do some key research. The information below provides you with a good starting point when researching a doctor’s expertise, professional background, and reputation.
What certifications does the doctor have?
Certifications provide validity on a doctor’s medical credentials. When assessing the competency of a doctor, look for the following credentials:
- American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) Certification – A doctor who’s certified through the ABMS means that the doctor has earned a medical degree from a qualified medical school, completed three to seven years of accredited residency training, is licensed by a state medical board, and has passed one or more exams administered by an ABMS member. Doctors must participate in continuing education to maintain this certification. Certification Matters provides patients with a free searchable database to check on their doctors’ certifications.
- Fellow of the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography (FSCAI) Designation – An FSCAI designation is a mark of excellence specifically among interventional cardiologists that provides validation to patients when choosing an interventional cardiologist. Only highly experienced SCAI members who have met performance standards established by SCAI and have received excellent peer recommendations can receive the prestigious designation of FSCAI.
- Master Interventionalists of SCAI (MSCAI) – An MSCAI designation recognizes outstanding interventional cardiologists. Peers nominate SCAI members to receive an MSCAI designation for having demonstrated excellence in interventional cardiology practice throughout their careers and commitment to the highest levels of clinical care, innovation, publication, and teaching.
Has the doctor published articles and/or participated in public talks on your health condition?
A doctor who often publishes papers and/or speaks publicly at events on your health condition indicates expertise on the condition. It also signifies that the doctor focuses much time on studying the condition and improving patients’ health outcomes.
Does the doctor provide care for many patients with your condition?
If the doctor treats many patients with your specific health condition, this is a good indicator that the doctor has a high level of expertise in the condition.
Do other doctors refer patients to this doctor?
If a doctor receives many referrals from other doctors to treat patients like you with the same health condition, then this doctor is known within the medical community for having the required level of training and experience to treat the condition.
Does the doctor have connections with other experts?
Doctors who work closely with other experts tend to be more familiar on the latest advances related to the treatment of your condition. These industry connections can signify expertise in several treatment options, thus leading to better patient health outcomes.
How does the doctor rate?
Nowadays, it’s quite simple to check a doctor’s professional rating, based on data from physicians, patients, employers, hospitals, and health insurance plans. Several websites provide easy access to doctor ratings, as well as information about a doctor’s education, years in practice, professional affiliations, awards, sanctions, malpractice claims, etc. Check out these websites for more information:
- American Medical Association (AMA) DoctorFinder
- National Committee for Quality Assurance
- Physician Compare
Are there any red flags?
Red flags on a doctor’s performance include any disciplinary actions or malpractice claims made against the doctor. While even good doctors may be involved in a malpractice suit at some point in their career, if a doctor has been involved in multiple malpractice claims, then it’s probably a good idea to stay away and look for another doctor to treat you.
Once you’ve assessed the level of competency of your doctor and determined that the doctor has the proper training and expertise to treat your health condition, it’s important to ensure a good patient-doctor relationship — one that’s built on mutual participation and trust — right from the beginning, especially if your doctor will be providing you with long-term, ongoing care. You’ll want your doctor to offer the best possible treatment options for the most positive health outcomes, so building a trusting relationship is key.
To help you be proactive in your health journey, refer to the following resources, which will help make the process of becoming your own health champion a bit easier and less stressful:
American Heart Association (AHA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Health Disparities and Populations at Risk
- Health Equity
- Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH 2023) Initiative
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
- 5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Coverage
- Consumer Resources—Roadmap to Better Care and Others
- Coverage to Care (C2C) Initiative
- Medicare.gov, Find & Compare Providers Near You
- Prevention Resources
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)