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 (You don’t strip down during a meeting with your accountant, do you?)—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. If you’re in the market for a new doctor (or just want to see how your current doctor stacks up), take the following steps.
How to Find the Right Doctor for You
Step One: Gather Names of Potential Doctors
Nothing compares to the real-life insight of people you trust, so start by soliticiting 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.
There are numerous sites to help find and grade physicians. Simply search for “primary care physician” in your given city and state to find a list of results. Below are six of the larger consumer-friendly sites which allow you to search by city and specialty:
Pros: Straightforward, simple design includes maps, bios, and insurance information.
Cons: The database is on the smaller side as doctors must be “verified” by the site.
Pros: This large database includes all verified board certified physicians.
Cons: The site requires stricter search terms (often including the name of the physician) and doesn’t provide additional physician information.
Pros: This large database offers extra search options based on medical condition and/or procedure, as well as additional information about physicians, including reviews.
Cons: The cumbersome search tool requires multiple links to find relevant information.
4. US News and World Reports
Pros: The site consists very reputable and trustworthy information with credentials and training of physicians.
Cons: Newer physicians are not in the database, and the database doesn’t include reviews.
Pros: This relatively large database includes additional physician information and reviews.
Cons: The layout isn’t as simple as other sites’ and is littered with ads.
Pros: Simple design allows users to search by insurances accepted, language, the reason for a visit, or whether the provider sees children. Users are also able to schedule appointments online with the site's verified physicians.
Cons: It has a small-ish database since all of the physicians are first verified by the site. It requires a patient to book an appointment through ZocDoc in order to post reviews.
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 sleuthing. Here are the six primary considerations you should have when researching a new physician.
1. Cost (My Bill is How Much?!?!)
Healthcare can be expensive, even for those who have insurance. When considering a physician, call the office to find out whether they require insurance, what insurances they accept, and what form of payments they accept. Also inquire about potential charges including annual fees, hospital association fees, and lab or facility fees. And remember, if you have insurance with a high deductible, you will be paying out of pocket until the deductible is met.
2. Doctor Expertise (Do I Need a Specialist?)
Cardiologists, nephrologists, 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), 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. For active individuals, Sports Medicine physicians are often trained in Family Medicine too and can care for general health concerns in addition to sport-specific injuries. Women may choose to see an obstetrician or gynecologist for certain needs (though family medicine physicians are trained in those areas as well).
3. Board Certification (Prove it!)
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 state 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. Use DocFinder or the American Board of Medical Specialties Certification site to sign up (for free) to verify any physician’s credentials. Keep in mind that a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) are both physicians that undergo similar training and either can provide excellent care.
4. Location and Availability (Are You There for Me?)
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!
5. Doctor Style (Are You Dr. Right?)
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 caretaking 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.
6. Office Amenities and Overall Experience (The Little Things)
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). Also consider how important office amenities such as free coffee/tea, snacks, and magazines are to you. Is this a deal breaker, or is an empty room and maybe a TV playing Jerry Springer sufficient? 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.
Finding the right doctor takes some time and homework, but it’s worth the investment. By soliciting recommendations, using the Internet, and calling around, you can narrow down the options. Making the final decision will likely require a visit or two to see if a given doctor is really Dr. Right. Nothing is more valuable than health, and finding “the one,” though it may take some time, ultimately helps promote a long and healthy life.
How did you find your doctor? Share your tips in the comments below, or get in touch with us on Twitter!
This post was written by Jon Bonnet, a resident physician at Duke Medical Center and personal trainer with a background in exercise physiology and performance testing. The opinions expressed herein are his and his alone and should not be taken as professional medical advice. He encourages you to see your own doctor for your healthcare questions and concerns, even if you think you are healthy. To learn more about Jon, check out his LinkedIn profile or Facebook page.