There are over 900,000 active doctors in the United States. Yet for a number of reasons some people have difficulty finding a doctor, let alone a doctor they like and trust.
When it comes to buying a car, there are many ways to get information that can help you make a decision. For example, there are websites and apps that compare key features, make and model, or miles per gallon. Ironically, many people can spend more time researching the price and quality of a car than selecting a healthcare professional.
In contrast, finding a doctor can be more difficult because the information about doctors is either not available or hard to find. Also, your choices may be limited because insurance providers typically have specific networks of doctors that are covered under a plan. Even so, there are new online services that compare doctors and various tools offered by insurance providers that can help you find the right doctor.
What You Can Do
Selecting a doctor is a very important decision and the resources to help support your choice are improving over time. However, a good first step when seeking a doctor or specialist is to get a recommendation from your current doctor or healthcare professional. Your primary physician can refer you to a specialist. Asking friends and family for their input can also help. And, there are additional steps you can take to get more information.
Check your insurance for information on doctors. Many insurance companies have directories with information about their “in-network” physicians. This information can range from location, type of training the physicians have had, whether they are specialized or sub-specialized, and whether they are board-certified in their field.
Make sure your doctor accepts new patients. Keep in mind that the doctor might not accept new patients or your health insurance. If you’re eligible for Medicare, find out if the new doctor accepts Medicare patients, as many doctors do not accept Medicare today. You can get this information when calling to schedule an appointment.
Use reputable healthcare information websites. There are many sites that have basic information on doctors including the types of insurance they accept, their specialty and the hospitals or healthcare systems they are associated with. Some even publicize a “doctor rating” or highlight a “top 10 doctors list”. As with all Internet searches, be very careful about online information and make sure that it comes from a reputed organization. Also, you should look into the details for how the ratings were determined.
Consider doing research on the doctor. Sometimes you might find publicly available information on the doctor (e.g., whether the physician is licensed to practice, whether the physician had disciplinary action taken against his or her license, which medical school he or she attended) on physician or state websites.
Ask questions. This is sometimes difficult to do, but you should feel free to ask your doctor (or your doctor’s practice) key questions. For example, if your doctor is a general practitioner, you can ask how much experience he or she has with your particular medical condition. If the doctor is a surgeon, you can ask how many surgeries he or she has completed. Also, you can ask if the physician has experience with clinical trials or research.
Stay tuned. This space of physician quality is evolving rapidly with many new emerging tools and resources. The digital revolution has increased the ability to gather data from multiple sources including electronic medical records and insurance claims. Also, the government has advanced many quality initiatives. So we may expect more and more validated tools in this area.
Remember, It’s a Personal Choice
Patients value different things in their doctor. Some may want great bedside manner and a ‘high touch’ personal interaction while others might value a physician’s technical skill or research experience. Some might place more importance on the team of healthcare prescribers or the institution that the physician is associated with. (These are not necessarily mutually exclusive!).
Your experience and interaction with your physician is personal, so while you can (and should) do some research to support your selection, ultimately your choice of doctor should be based on what’s right for you.
Rebecca Ashkenazy, MD is the Women’s and Men’s Health, US Medical Director, Pfizer Inc.