How to shop for a
When it comes to finding a doctor,
many Americans take the easy way out. That could be a dangerous
They pick a doctor by flipping open a phone book or
a health care directory and choosing a doctor with an office near
their homes or workplaces. Others might ask a friend or two for
advice. And that's about it.
That's hardly a comprehensive search. Pinpointing
a doctor to care for your family's medical needs is too important
a decision to make so lightly.
To find a physician who is right for you, you'll need
to do some research and some old-fashioned shopping around.
"Spend some time," says John Connolly, co-publisher
"These are really critical, important
choices that can mean your life."
Begin your search
Start by asking friends, family and co-workers about doctors they'd
recommend and why. Get as many recommendations as you can. And don't
be shy about asking more specific questions.
"Did the doctor really take a thorough medical
history? Is the doctor familiar with your case?" asks Robert
Krughoff, editor of Consumers' Guide to Top Doctors. "When
you go, does he or she listen to you and make you feel at ease when
A family physician that you've known for years, even
someone who lives in a different part of the country, may be able
to recommend a doctor or a well-known hospital or medical group
in your area. It's worth a shot.
Look for doctors associated with the top hospital
in your area. For tips on selecting a good hospital, check out "Your
Guide to Choosing Quality Health Care," an online booklet
from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Seek out doctors who are board certified. Board certification
means a doctor has completed at least three years of training in
a specific field after medical school and has passed a tough exam.
"Now it doesn't guarantee they're a great doctor,"
Connolly says. "But at least it assures you they've had the
appropriate training for that specialty."
You can check a doctor's credentials online by visiting
the Web sites of the American
Medical Association or the American
Board of Medical Specialties.
These sites also list online directories that will
help you locate doctors by specialty in your area. Some hospital
Web sites also offer physician-locator services. Be sure to check.
Look for a doctor with teaching responsibilities at
a hospital. Teaching doctors aren't limited to medical schools.
Many doctors spend a couple of hours a week teaching and guiding
newly trained doctors.
"It keeps you up-to-date. It keeps you intellectually
alive," Krughoff says. "You want a doctor that's being
exposed to questions and new ideas all the time."
Tracking down physicians with teaching duties may
be as simple as calling a hospital and asking.
Avoid doctors with a record of disciplinary actions.
Links to state medical complaint boards can be found on the Web
sites of Consumers
CheckBook and America's
Doctors, a Web site launched by Public Citizen, is another good
step. The site's Internet database contains names of doctors in
26 states and the District of Columbia who have been disciplined
by state medical boards and federal agencies in the past 10 years.
Listed doctors have been disciplined for everything from negligence
and incompetence to sexual misconduct and incorrectly prescribing
Ask the right questions
Once you narrow down your choices to a couple of doctors near you,
call the doctors' offices and ask a few more questions. Be sure
to speak to the office manager.
- Is the doctor taking new patients?
- Is the doctor covered by your health plan? If the
doctor is not covered by your health plan, can you afford to pay
the extra costs?
- How much experience does a doctor have in treating
your specific medical condition? For example, if you have diabetes,
you'd want to find out how much of their practice focuses on diabetes
- What are the doctor's office hours? Are the hours
convenient to your schedule? Does the doctor offer extended or
weekend hours? Some do.
- How can you reach the doctor during an emergency?
What other doctors will fill in if your primary doctor is unavailable?
Once you select a doctor, make sure you enjoy his
or her company.
"It's got to be someone you feel you can relate
to. You have to make sure that personal dynamic is there,"
Connolly says. "If that personal chemistry is just not good
then it's not going to be good for your health."
If a doctor puts you off, you're more likely to hold
back questions and concerns. You'll avoid making appointments. You'd
be much better off finding another doctor.
"If you go to a doctor and you just don't like
them, start over again," Connolly says.
Even if you and your doctor get to be great pals,
don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion if a serious health
problem arises. Getting a second opinion is also a good idea if
your doctor is having a difficult time diagnosing your health problem.
"No good doctor should be insulted if you
want a second opinion," Connolly says. "Physicians all
look at problems differently. Maybe the physician you're dealing
with is missing something that someone else picks up."