I’m excited to announce that US News and World Report has invited me and some other social-media savvy physicians to participate in a live Twitter chat about how to find a good doctor. The chat will be held on Thursday, March 20th at 2pm EST. You can join the conversation by following the #DoctorFinder hashtag or take the pre-chat poll here.
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’:
4. Do an online “background check” of your top choices.
- Verify their board certification at the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) –registration required. Research suggests that board certified physicians provide better patient care. Go to CertificationMatters.org for more information.
- Check for any negative reports at their home state’s licensing website – Go to “verify a license” ( e.g. CA)
- Google them – do they have a blog or social media presence? If so, get to know them that way.
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?
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.