A 10-step process to finding a good doctor

Most people, including physicians, rely on personal references to find a good doctor. But what do you do when you’re far from home, or you don’t know anyone with firsthand knowledge of local doctors? My parents recently asked me to recommend a physician for them in a state where I knew none of my colleagues personally. This is the 10-step process that I used to help them navigate their way to an excellent specialist — I hope it helps others you find the right doctor as well!

1. Determine what kind of doctor you need. You’d be surprised how many different specialists treat the same symptom — depending on its underlying cause. Take “back pain” for example — should you see a primary care physician, an orthopedist, a neurosurgeon, an anesthesiologist, a rheumatologist, or a rehab specialist to evaluate your symptoms? That depends on the cause of the pain, which might not yet be evident to you. The first step to finding a good physician is to figure out which type is best suited to your potential diagnosis. Bouncing from specialist to specialist can be costly, so if you’re not sure which kind of physician specializes in treating your disease or condition (or if you haven’t been diagnosed yet), start with a primary care physician first.

If you’d like to ask an online physician about your symptoms (or find out which specialist would be the most appropriate for you or your loved one),  eDocAmerica.com is my favorite online physician consultant service (note that I answer questions for them.)

2. Compile a list of all the doctors (of the specialty you need) in your area. This list can be generated by your insurance carrier or by an online search of doctor-finder databases such as Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com, or US News & World Report’s Doctor Finder directory.

3. Narrow online choices by your preferences (available via  Healthgrades.com or Vitals.com databases). Check out the doctors’:

  • Hospital affiliation(s)
  • Office location(s)
  • Educational background
  • Specialty interests
  • Languages spoken
  • Years in practice
  • Gender
  • Types of insurance accepted
  • Review CV if available (often on affiliated hospital website).
  • Check out patient reviews (take them with a grain of salt in case they are skewed by an unfairly disgruntled patient).
  • Make sure they’re accepting new patients.

4. Do an online “background check” of your top choices.

5. Make an appointment. Consider the following qualities in a good physician experience:

  • The team: courteousness of scheduling staff, professionalism of nurses, PA’s, techs, etc.
  • Facilities: cleanliness, comfort
  • Medical records/communication: How will they provide you your data? EMR? Email?
  • Timeliness/convenience

6. Come prepared.

  • Bring your list of medications.
  • Bring a list of your medical and surgical history/conditions.
  • Bring a list of your allergies.
  • Bring contact information for your other physicians/providers.
  • Bring your insurance information.

7. Ask the right questions.

  • How many procedures (like the one I’ll need) have you performed previously?
  • What are the risks/benefits of the procedure? Alternatives?
  • What should I read to learn more about this?
  • If unsure of diagnosis: What else could this be?
  • Are there other medicines that are less expensive that we could substitute?

8. Go with your gut.

  • Did the doctor explain everything clearly?
  • Did the doctor seem to care about you?
  • Do you trust your doctor to be thorough with follow up?
  • Do you like your doctor?

9. Get a second opinion.

  • If the doctor did not meet your expectations in any significant way, find another one.
  • If you want to be sure that you’re on the best path, get a second opinion from one of his/her peers or do it online: eDocAmerica (for generalist questions), Best Doctors (to be matched with top national specialists)

10. Reward good doctors with good online recommendations so others can benefit. Physician ratings are only as reliable as the reviewers. Help other patients locate good doctors by promoting those who deserve it.

Val Jones is founder and CEO, Better Health.

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