Useful tips when looking for a new doctor

These days, it is not uncommon for people to need to find a new doctor. The most common reasons include a) moving to a new city, b) dissatisfaction with your former doctor, c) your old doctor no longer accepts your new or old insurance, or d) you were diagnosed with a new medical condition and need specialized treatment.

Often, people go to their insurance company website or provider book, search for a doctor, and see a list of names in their area with contact information (and perhaps a brief biographical sketch). This narrows the choices down more than the phone book would, but now what? If insurance is not a limitation, the list of doctors to choose from will be even longer.

There is an old saying that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. This is one of the best ways to find a new doctor, provided you are getting the information from a source you know and trust. While friends and family can be good sources to ask about which doctors they use and like, it is also a very good idea to ask a friend (or friend of a friend) who works in a local hospital or health care setting. Here’s why.

First, healthcare providers know who provides good healthcare in their area. They know this because they read the reports of doctors they refer patients to, hear patient feedback on their experiences with the doctor, and may work in the same setting which allows them to have inside knowledge as to whether there are any problems with the doctor that may not be more commonly known to others.

When I needed to find an endodontist to perform a root canal last year, I first asked my regular dentist for a list of names. He gave me a list of endodontists who accepted my insurance and said all were good. Still, I wanted to base my choice on something more specific than using eenie-meenine-miney-mo. Problem is, I don’t have any friends or family members who are dentists. But I did know someone who had a relative who was a dentist in the area. I asked the person I knew about the names on the list, he asked the relative for me, and later he told me who I should see based on reputation in the dental community. The root canal worked out very well and I could not have been happier.

Another thing to do is look at the doctor’s credentials. First, check if the doctor is board certified since this gives you the highest probability that you will be provided competent specialized services. The best place to check is the website for the American Board of Medical Specialists (ABMS) which contains board certification status in 24 specialty areas. For psychology, see the American Board of Professional Psychology(ABPP), which contains board certification status in 14 different areas of psychology. Please note that there are good doctors who are not board certified and bad doctors who are board certified but you increase your chance of finding the former by choosing one who is board certified. Other credentials to look at are where the doctor went to school and completed training. This can be found by either calling the doctor’s office or doing an internet search.

An internet search is another good way to research a new doctor as you may discover news articles that a doctor was interviewed for, which may give you more confidence in the doctor’s expertise. Be careful, however, of doctor review websites because they tend to be skewed towards people who had a negative experience versus a positive experience and thus may not tell the entire story. Be sure to check the website for your state’s licensing board as this can tell you if there are any disciplinary complaints pending against the doctor.

One other idea some people have is to “interview” your potential doctor. Basically, this involves asking the doctor some important questions during an initial consultation such as how are emergencies handled, what are the after-hours policies, how can you get a prescription refill, do you actually see the doctor or a nurse practitioner, etc. Based on the answers to these types of questions and the personal feel you get based on interacting with the doctor, you can get a sense of the doctor is a right fit for you. While good rapport with the doctor is important, also consider how the office staff treats the patients. Are they friendly and courteous or do they seem to be rude and cut people short? Does there seem to be frequent infighting amongst the staff and is the doctor yelling at staff in front of patients. If so, these are bad signs. You need to deal with a competent office staff as well as a competent doctor to manage your health care needs.

One last point: If you get a letter from your doctor saying they will no longer be participating with your insurance as of a certain date due to a contract dispute, see this as a call to action. Contact the insurance company to complain and have others you know do the same who see the particular doctor. If enough pressure is brought to bear, you may not have to make a switch at all as the insurance company and doctor may then make a new agreement. This just happened to me recently, actually.

Dominic A. Carone is a neuropsychologist who blogs at MedFriendly.com.

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