Choose a Doctor

With new diagnostic and treatment alternatives emerging on a daily basis, it’s likely that more than one approach exists to treat just about any health care problem you face. With so many choices, how can you be sure that you’re making the right one? The answer starts with finding the right doctor to partner with—and knowing the resources that are available to help.

Your relationship with your doctor can have a profound impact on your ability to make wise health care decisions. It can also affect the outcome of your care and your overall well-being.

Finding a Doctor

Your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers can be an excellent starting point for recommendations. But don’t rely solely on word of mouth. As you evaluate and compare various doctors, you’ll also want to research their quality and qualifications.

Here are a few questions to guide you:

  • Is the doctor board certified in his or her specialty? Each medical specialty has a national board that’s responsible for setting standards doctors must meet in order to be certified. Board-certified doctors have completed several years of training beyond medical school, practiced for a designated number of years in that specialty, and passed examinations in their specialty area. Certified doctors must attend continuing medical education programs to maintain their certification. You may find a good doctor who is not board certified; however, certification is generally a good indicator of knowledge and professionalism.
  • How many times has the doctor performed a particular procedure or treated a particular condition? This is especially important if you’re choosing a specialist for a complex problem. Your results will probably be better if the doctor has had more experience with a particular procedure or condition. Ask your doctor how many times he or she has performed the procedure or how frequently he or she has treated patients with your condition—and then compare the information with the experience of other specialists.
  • Has the doctor ever faced any disciplinary actions? A patient who receives poor or questionable medical care has the option of filing a formal complaint with the state medical board. State boards review and investigate complaints, and, when appropriate, take some form of disciplinary action against the doctor. Any disciplinary action will be documented.
  • What are the doctor’s hospital affiliations? Most doctors can only admit patients to certain hospitals. Take the admission privileges into account, and then learn what you can about the quality of the affiliated hospitals. If receiving care at a particular hospital is important to you, make sure that the doctor you’re considering can admit patients to that facility. Also, check the hospital affiliations of any specialists to whom you may be referred.
  • Is the doctor within your plan’s network? Using an in-network doctor gives you the highest level of benefits coverage and simplifies the submission of claims. Check with your plan to find out if your doctor is in the network.

Researching Doctor Quality and Qualifications

To get answers to these and other questions that you may have as you weigh your options, go to the Web sites listed below.

Web Site Sponsoring Organization Available Resources
www.ama-assn.org American Medical Association Provides physician profiles. Search for doctors by location or specialty.
www.abms.org American Board of Medical Specialties Provides information on physician certifications. Search by specialty.
www.docboard.org Administrators in Medicine Provides information on disciplinary actions taken against doctors.
www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus U.S. National Library of Medicine Provides directories of general and specialized doctors, dentists and other health care personnel.