Everyone wants, and deserves, a qualified doctor with whom they can have a good partnership. You may be looking for a doctor due to a move or the need for a new specialist. Or you might be searching for a new doctor because you are unhappy with your current doctor for any number of reasons (for more information on when you should consider changing doctors, read the posts in my recent series.*) Finding a new doctor can be hard and worrisome. How do you find a new doctor you can trust?
What to look for in a new doctor.
Of course, you want a doctor who is qualified to care for your health issues. But you should also use a doctor who treats you with respect, who includes you in the decision-making process and with whom you can get along. Having the “right” doctor for you and your needs can positively impact your care and your health.
If you have serious health issues, you might want to consider using a doctor with a concierge practice. For a yearly fee, you get easy access to your doctor, increased attention and longer appointments. To learn more, read The Benefits of Concierge Medicine.
Additionally, I suggest you read my prior blog series* to make a list of issues to consider when getting recommendations and evaluating your options.
Ask a doctor you like for recommendations.
Ask a doctor you trust for names of other doctors. You can ask your primary care doctor, or any of your specialists, for names. You can also ask a doctor who is a friend (or even a friend of a friend) for recommendations. Doctors can provide helpful information about other doctors’ skills, experience and often their bedside manner. You can ask your doctor who they would use if they were looking for a doctor for their own care.
If you go this route, realize that doctors often will recommend doctors who are part of the same hospital network as they are. If you want names of doctors in other hospital networks, make that desire clear.
Ask your relatives, friends and co-workers.
Who better to ask than people in your life whose opinion you trust? Over the years I’ve asked many friends and family for recommendations for doctors and I’ve never been disappointed. People you know and trust are great sources for recommendations. Not only can you find out about a doctor’s skill and personality, you can also learn about how long you can expect to sit in the waiting room, how the staff treats patients, how hard it is to get an appointment and other factors that can impact patient experience.
There are many databases run by government agencies, non-profit organizations and companies that provide information on doctors (and hospitals). You can learn about education, accreditation, years of experience, malpractice cases, criminal convictions and more. What you generally won’t find is information on issues that can impact the patient experience, such as doctors who rush through appointments, don’t listen to patients or have rude staff.
For a list of databases to search, visit the ZaggoCare resource page on researching facilities and doctors.
Look at online patients’ ratings and review sites.
Many of us read reviews and make note of the average star rating before choosing a restaurant or hotel and before hiring a plumber or electrician. Should we do the same for doctors? If you do, you’re not alone. Many Americans are reading online reviews before choosing a new doctor. A recent survey found:
- 95% think online ratings and reviews of doctors as “somewhat” to “very” reliable
- 75% say online ratings and review sites have influenced their decision when choosing a doctor
- 30% share their own healthcare experiences via social media and online ratings and review sites
Can we trust patients’ reviews and ratings?
Probably. A recent report states that Yelp reviews actually correlate with Medicare surveys such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). Additionally, an analysis of NY hospitals and Yelp reviews found that higher Yelp ratings are correlated with better-quality hospitals as measured by a widely accepted metric on hospital readmission rates. The analysis concludes that Yelp reviews provide a useful, clear, and reliable tool for comparing the quality of different facilities. On the other hand, a recent study found that ratings and reviews on Yelp, Facebook and Google were similar to those provided on Medicare’s Hospital Compare site when it comes to patient experience, but the scores were less consistent when considering patient safety and quality of care. Do these findings apply to doctors as well as hospitals? Probably, although it’s hard to know for sure.
Of course, there is no guarantee that a highly rated and well-reviewed doctor is one whom you can trust to provide excellent care with a good bedside manner. But, it can be worthwhile to read patients’ reviews and ratings as part of your decision-making process.
Importantly, the ratings can be skewed, so take these ratings and reviews with a grain of salt. And don’t use this as your primary method for finding and/or evaluating a potential new doctor.
Where can you find patients’ ratings and reviews?
There are many options to see the opinion of other patients (as opposed to sites with professional reviews and ratings). Popular sites to see patients’ reviews on doctors and doctor practices include Google, Yelp, ZocDoc, Healthgrades, Angie’s List and RateMDs.
Search the database on your insurance company’s website.
If you are new to an area, or don’t have anyone who can offer recommendations, you can find doctors in your area on your health insurer’s website. You can search by specialty and geographic area. Once you find a few names, you can learn more about a particular doctor using the sites mentioned in the prior two sections – databases and patients’ reviews and ratings.
Don’t forget to check your insurance coverage.
Speaking of insurance, make sure your potential new doctor takes your insurance! After you decide which doctor you want to use, the first thing you should do is find out if they take your insurance. Ask the doctor’s office or look on your insurance company’s website.
As odd as it sounds, some doctors take a particular insurance for some procedures, but not for every service they provide. This is an easy way to get an expensive bill for an appointment or procedure that you thought was covered. Ask any potential doctor if all of their services are included in your plan.
How do others find a new doctor?
Wondering how other people find doctors? A 2019 survey by Kyruus revealed how patients find new doctors:
When looking for a primary care physician (PCP):
- 32% – do their own research online
- 30% – review insurance provider’s website
- 23% – ask family or friend
- 14% – ask another healthcare provider
When looking for a specialist:
- 40% – get a referral from their PCP
- 31% – conduct their own research online
- 15% – review insurance website
- 10% – ask family or friend
There are no guarantees in life, or in doctors
Even after lots of research, getting personal recommendations and reading reviews, you may find you don’t like your new doctor. Just because your friend Nancy raves about her dermatologist doesn’t mean you will love her doctor. Everybody’s needs and personalities are different. If you don’t like your new doctor, you should probably take a deep breath and try again. A positive relationship with your doctor is a key part of getting the best healthcare possible, and that is too important to give up on.
NOTE: I updated this post on 11-8-19.