Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the Internet

Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the Internet

Part of the KevinMD toolkit series.

“How can I find a doctor online?”

A seemingly simple question, but patients are often confronted with too much information on the Internet, with variable quality.

Finding a doctor a similar to completing a puzzle.  Like puzzle pieces, there are many resources available, including word of mouth, hospitals, insurance companies, and physician rating sites.

Don’t rely on a single resource, but use them to complement each other.  The information available online should lead you to a reputable physician.

Here are some Internet resources to help find a doctor online and research the right doctor for you.

Step 1: Find a doctor online

There are several ways to come up with a doctor’s name online.

Google web search.  The simplest, most direct method. Use keywords like [city], [state] with “doctor,” “primary care,” “physician,” “cardiologist,” and the like.

For instance, if I were a new patient looking for a primary care doctor in Nashua, NH, I’d type something like “primary care doctor, nashua nh,” and which would yield a few leads to local hospitals and medical systems to get you started:

Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the Internet

Your local hospital.  Hospital websites generally have a “find a doctor” page, where you can browse through a physician directory with contact information.  Not sure which hospital to choose?  Use Medicare’s Hospital Compare where you can compare hospitals based on patient survey results and objective quality measures.

Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the Internet

Online physician directories.  There are dozens to choose from, summarized nicely on this Medline Plus page.  It is particularly strong in consolidating dozens of “find a doctor” pages from the specialty societies.  So if you’re looking for a cardiologist, pulmonologist, gastroenterologist or surgeon, start there.

For primary care doctors, I would choose the American Medical Association’s DoctorFinder.  Keep in mind that AMA members show up first when queried.  It takes a few more clicks to view non-AMA physicians.

Your health insurer. Your health insurer website has online physician directories that, of course, accept your particular health plan.  Some tier doctors based on quality measures and whether they practice cost-effective medicine.

Step 2: Research your doctor on the Internet

Now that you have a name, how do you know if your doctor is right for you?  A patient-physician relationship today is more like a partnership.  And like any partner, a doctor who’s great for one patient may not be the right fit for another.  Here are some ways to determine whether your new doctor is a good match.

Determine board certification.  Critical.  Board certification has generally been shown to be associated with quality of care.  The American Board of Medical Specialties created Certification Matters where you can input doctors’ names and determine whether they’re board certified in any specialty.

Find out any disciplinary action. You’d want to know whether your new doctor has been disciplined by a medical board, or involved with malpractice cases.  While the availability of that information can vary from state to state, your state’s medical board is a good place to begin.

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) has also created DocInfo, where you can purchase a physician profile that includes disciplinary action.  According to the FAQ:

Whenever disciplinary information exists, this report will provide the name of the state medical board or licensing agency that initiated the action, what type of disciplinary action was taken (such as a license revocation, probation, suspension, etc.,) the date of the action and the basis or reason(s) for the action. The FSMB Physician Profile does not include information on medical malpractice settlements or claims.

The FSMB Physician Profile costs $9.95.

Do you have Medicare? Go to Medicare’s Physician Compare to find out if your doctor takes Medicare.

Determine prescribing patterns. Using information from Medicare Part D, ProPublica compiled the data and created an extremely handy searchable database: Prescriber Checkup. A wealth of information here, including how a provider compares to others in the same specialty and state, average prescription price, and a prescriber’s top-ranked drugs next to each drug’s rank among all prescribers in the same specialty and state.

Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the Internet

Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the Internet

Physician rating sites. In general, online physician ratings are fragmented across dozens of sites, with most physicians having only a handful of reviews, if any at all.  I wouldn’t rely on rating sites by themselves, but they can be a useful complementary piece.  Several rating sites having uniformly poor reviews on a doctor can be a red flag, for instance.

The Informed Patient Institute has a tool that reviews and ranks these sites based on whether they’re for-profit or not, and how useful they are to patients.  Use this as your starting point when wading into the pool of online physician ratings.

Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the Internet

In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Health Quality Partners and Consumer Reports pooled over 50,000 patient surveys from primary care and pediatric offices and presented the data in a searchable database.  If you’re looking for a primary care doctor or a pediatrician in Massachusetts, start here.

Google your doctor.  This is a necessity.  Often times, doctors won’t have a large digital footprint, and what comes up are their profiles on physician rating sites.  But sometimes you’ll find the website of their practice, where you can get a better sense of how the office runs.  Other times, you’ll find their social media presence, such as a LinkedIn profile or a Twitter feed.  A LinkedIn profile is useful, since it’s an online CV of your doctor.  A Twitter feed can reveal a little bit of your doctor’s personality, and probably is the closest to hearing him “speak” before meeting him.

And on occasion, you’ll see your doctor’s mainstream media exposure: newspaper articles and television appearances.  Or stories written about him, positive or otherwise.

What shows up on your doctor’s Google search can tip your decision one way or the other if you’re on the fence.

Step 3: Put together the puzzle

Once you have researched your doctor online, use that information in conjunction with other sources.  Word of mouth from your friends or calling the practice yourself with questions.

Although not always possible, meet the prospective physician before making your choice.  As with any partnership, not all of them are going to work out.  It’s critical to see if your personalities, values, and philosophies of care match.  That requires a face to face visit.

But with the amount of information available online, you’ll be far better prepared before that first meeting with your new doctor.

Finding a doctor online and researching your physician on the InternetKevin Pho is co-author of Establishing, Managing, and Protecting Your Online Reputation: A Social Media Guide for Physicians and Medical Practices. He is founder and editor, KevinMD.com, also on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • Fletch

    Citation for this?

    “Determine board certification. Critical. Board certification has generally been shown to be associated with quality of care. The American Board of Medical Specialties created Certification Matters where you can input doctors’ names and determine whether they’re board certified in any specialty.”

    • http://www.kevinmd.com kevinmd
      • Fletch

        That study doesn’t mean what you think it means. It showed that, of people who took the test, the ones who did the best on the test followed evidence-based protocols (for certain very limited number of diseases) the closest. You posted that people who have passed a board exam deliver higher quality of care. To the best of my knowledge, that study doesn’t exist. Probably because it isn’t true–and certainly isn’t “critical.”

  • AZpedsdoc

    I am not on board with your board certification statement. I could tell you some doctors who passed their boards on their first try are terrible doctors and others who took a few times to pass, or did not recert and are great docs. At least in primary care, this may not be so critical, but I do assert it is more critical when it comes to specialties and fellowship trained physicians.

  • Trisha Torrey

    Kevin – I’ve scratched my head over this question… how can it help a patient to know the prescribing practices of a doctor?

    Even if the list is “comparative” – we patients don’t have the tools for making any comparisons. For example, a doctor in one part of the state (say the inner city) may prescribe very differently from a doctor in another part of the state (say a high wealth suburb) which may be due to the income of the area, or may be due to what payer the patient has (if any) or may be due to obesity rates or smoking rates in lower income areas…

    I’m not saying it’s not useful – I’m just saying I don’t know HOW it is useful for a patient, no matter how empowered, to use this information. Do I choose a doctor because he prescribes MORE of a drug (as in – I’m a pain patient so there’s a chance I can get more?) or do I choose a doctor because he prescribes LESS antibiotics? But then – how do I know how many patients with infections that doctor sees?

    Enlighten me, please! Because so far I, even as empowered as I am, have missed the point.

    Trisha Torrey
    Every Patient’s Advocate

    • Dr. Drake Ramoray

      Because patients and the government can use it to compare the prescribing practices of a doctor to what companies they take money from in the forms of meals and such. (Why a doctor would give talks or lead CME for a medication that they dont use is beyond me.) That information is to be made public soon, with an ineffectual and convoluted method to contest inaccurate monies assigned to a physician. The short answer is its just more big brother interfering in medicine. I agree though Im not sure how that is useful to patients.

      • Trisha Torrey

        Thanks Drake. I’m fully aware of the lists of pharma payments to doctors and I can actually see how that would be useful. If I find out a doctor has been taking payments and his/her prescribing habits seem to reflect that – then it does tell me something. But that’s not the database Kevin referred to. The Prescriber Check-up he referred to doesn’t mention anything about the monies being doled out by pharma. It only gives some info about some drugs being prescribed. And, frankly, it provides a good heads up to pain drug seekers who are looking for their next doctor. (So, ironically, in that sense, for those drug seeking patients, I suppose it could be quite useful.)

        • Dr. Drake Ramoray

          Thank you for he response. Let me clarify. Even the pain seeking meds can’t really be taken in much of a context (suppose the family practice doc subspecializs in sports medicine) I was aware that Kevin was talking about a different database. I was pointing out that patients can cross reference the two.

          Say I think drug X is superior to drug Y and I think it’s important to share that with my fellow physicians. I decide to make a little money on the side speaking about Drug X at CME events. So using BOTH databases I prescribe more of drug X and take more money from the manufacturer of Drug X How is the patient to tell that I legitimately prefer drug X to drug Y or that Im a shill for the manufacturer of Drug X and just greedy? Furthermore if I truly believe that drug X is better than drug Y, why would I prescribe a lot of drug Y?

          I don’t think the info has much use to patients.

          • Trisha Torrey

            Agreed – and that’s the point. So I go back to my original question: what benefit is there to a patient to look at the database Kevin highlighted to determine the prescribing practices of a doctor?

            What can a patient learn from that database that is useful to him or her?

            I just don’t see any benefit – which was why I asked the question.

          • Dr. Drake Ramoray

            We agree. It is of no help to patients. Which is why I provided a potential alternative explanation as to why either of the databases was created.

            I’m with you, and Im interested in Kevin’s opinion on how it would help patients.

          • http://www.kevinmd.com kevinmd

            Trisha, thanks for the comment.

            As a patient, I think it would be useful to know if a doctor’s prescribing pattern is an outllier when compared to his peers.

            Also from a drug co-pay cost standpoint, a prescriber’s ratio of brand name versus generic drugs would be useful to know as well. If a provider’s top-prescribed drugs were all branded drugs, for instance, that may appeal to some patients, but not to others.

            Kevin

          • Trisha Torrey

            Kevin – Thanks for sharing your thinking. While I understand the points you think would be of interest to a patient (and I agree, some patients would find those points interesting) — I just don’t think that particular database has enough info in it to be helpful.

            I don’t know anything about the population a doctor serves, nor do I know Dr. X serves a population similar to Dr. Y – and I don’t know, therefore, whether that doctor is an outlier or not.

            Truth is – a truly empowered patient wants to find the doctor he/she can communicate with. When that communication takes place the way it should, what the doctor prescribes for others should make no difference.

            An interesting discourse anyway, Kevin. Thanks for your reply.

  • zersys

    Whenever i feel sick i used check and take medicine from online doctor…

  • SBornfeld

    Kevin–thanks for this. I expected the usual, but there’s plenty to look into. As a onetime “victim” of these rating sites, it gives me at least some hope that patients can glean some useful information from these sites.

  • http://www.capko.com Laurie Morgan

    Health plans appear last in section 1, but patients should really look there first — otherwise, they’ll just waste time evaluating doctors that don’t participate in their plans.

    Also, this seems like “how to find a primary care doctor” rather than “how to find a doctor” — because, if you were looking for a specialist, the recommendations of your primary care doctor (or other doctor you see regularly, say your OB/GYN) would in all likelihood be the place you’d start.

Most Popular