Finding a doctor is serious business—whether you’re looking for a primary care physician, a specialized doctor, or even a dentist—picking the one who’s right for you is critical. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy just checking into Yelp and finding out who has five stars. Web sites like Health Grades, Doctor Finder, and RateMDs do exist, but most physicians suggest these ratings aren’t a good representation of a doctor’s skill. Instead, to find a good doctor, you’ll have to do some legwork.
Decide What Kind of Doctor You Need
We all need a different kind of doctor at different times of our lives. If you have special medical needs, you might even need a specialist, or at the very least, a primary care physician who has experience with your needs. Even still, speaking with Dr. Pamela F. Gallin, The New York Times notes that your best starting place might be a primary care physician:
While some internists have additional training in cardiology or rheumatology… primary care physicians also have a network of trusted specialists for referrals.
You want to find a doctor that suits your medical needs, and who has dealt with your issues before. If you’re completely stuck on who to go to, a primary care physician is a good starting point because they can refer you to a specialist. Once you have an idea of what you need, it’s time to see who’s available to you. The last thing you want to do is research a great doctor and then find out they don’t take your insurance.
In your health plan you should have a list of doctors who accept your insurance, and that’s where you want to start looking. From there, you can narrow it down by specialty, if necessary, then cross-reference that list with other databases. US News has a collection of top doctors of all types and it’s a good place to start. Most regional magazines also publish a “top doctors” list yearly. For instance, here in Denver, 5280 Magazine has a yearly list they release. A Google search for “top doctors [your city]” should lead you to a localized list.
Unfortunately, it’s not an easy process, and will take a little work to find a doctor who looks good on paper. While you’re at it, you should also check to make sure doctors are up on their certifications. Certification Matters will show you what certifications a doctor has, as well as how often they renew them.
Also, don’t forget your family and friends are an amazing resource to finding a good doctor—especially if you’re looking for someone outside of a primary care physician like a dentist, pediatrician, or anything else. Talk to your friends about who they go to, what their experience was like, and if they ultimately recommend their doctor.
Continue Your Research to Find a Doctor Who Fits Your Personality
Once you narrow down your choices, it’s time to see which of those doctors is going to suit you personally. The doctor and patient relationship is just as important as their skill level.
The easiest place to start is a doctor’s web site if they have one. You can get a good general idea of what they’re like just by seeing their office, and if you’re lucky you’ll also find a video or two. US News also recommends you set up a time to chat with a doctor on the phone:
It’s smart—and completely within your rights—to set up an introductory phone call with any doctor you’re considering… Does he or she sound like someone you could relate to? “People sometimes think this is a binary decision—you gather information, you pick one of the doctors, and then all the dominos fall into place,” says Carolyn Clancy, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. “Choosing a doctor is step one. Working with [him or her] is the rest of the process.” A few leading questions can shed light on a doctor’s decision-making style, and whether she works with patients to design a treatment plan or whether she feels strongly that she’s the doctor and what she says goes. For example: “Can I weigh in when I have ideas about my care?” Neither approach is right or wrong.
You want to look for a doctor who’s going to fit your personality. The type of doctor best suited for you is entirely dependent on your own needs, but chances are you can figure out if you’ll enjoy how a doctor works after a quick conversation.
In short, finding a good doctor is going to be a bit of crapshoot, but you can at least improve your odds of finding someone you can spend the rest of your life with. Photo by Erich Ferdinand.