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. No matter the reason for needing or wanting a new doctor, finding a new one is often hard and worrisome. How do you find a new doctor you can trust?
What to look for in a new doctor.
There are so many things to consider when trying to find a new doctor, including these factors:
Of course, you want a doctor who is qualified to care for your health issues. Make sure he/she has board certification in the expertise you need with the American Board of Medical Specialties website tool.
You can also check to see where a doctor went to medical school. Although great doctors can come from any medical school, those who attended prestigious medical schools, or did residence training at top hospitals, might be more knowledgeable.
Doctor’s age and experience.
Additionally, consider the age and experience of any prospective doctor, since these factors can impact the quality of care provided. For instance, newly minted doctors lack experience, but have more up-to-date skills. Conversely, older doctors have years of experience, but research shows the quality of care may decline among older doctors. Read Does Your Doctor’s Age Matter? for more information.
Importantly, you should look for a doctor who will treat you with respect, answer your questions, and include you in the decision-making process. Certainly, you deserve a doctor with whom you can get along.
Additionally, consider the practical aspects of healthcare. For instance, how long you would you have to wait get an appointment? Do you have to wait weeks, or even months to book a non-urgent appointment? What about urgent appointments? And how easy it is to communicate with the doctor between appointments? Does he/she generally reply to emails or phone calls within 24 hours?
Should you consider a concierge doctor?
Moreover, 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.
Take your time!
It’s worth taking your time to find a doctor because having the “right” doctor for you and your needs can positively impact your care and your health.
You can always change your mind.
Importantly, consider your first appointment a test run. If the new doctor doesn’t fit your needs, you can continue to look for a better option. For instance, you don’t have to put up with feeling uncomfortable or ignored. And of course, you want a doctor who has the qualifications you need. Yes, it’s a pain to start all over again, but your health is worth it!
I suggest you read my blog posts on how to decide if it’s time to switch doctors – Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. You can use the information in these posts to help you figure out if a new (or long-term) doctor is a good fit for you. And you can also use the information in these posts to make a list of issues to consider when getting recommendations and evaluating your options.
How to find a new doctor.
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, nonprofit 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 read online reviews before choosing a new doctor. In a 2021 survey by Reputation, 70% of respondents report they read patient reviews when looking for a healthcare location or provider.
The big question – do online reviews and ratings represent the quality of care provided?
Can we trust patients’ reviews and ratings?
Probably. But not always.
For instance, according to a 2022 study, online reviews are highly correlated with clinical quality and can help patients find better healthcare providers. In this study, researchers compared ratings on Yelp with data from Medicare. The study found that doctors with higher ratings have better educational and professional credentials, as measured by board certification status, rankings of medical schools, and accreditations. Moreover, the study found that doctors with higher ratings show higher adherence to clinical guidelines. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, patients of doctors with higher ratings have better clinical outcomes.
Additionally, a report released in 2021 shows that showed that for every one-star drop in online hospital review scores, the typical hospital saw 18 more deaths per 100,000 people. These results indicate that online reviews of providers could provide worthwhile insight into hospital quality.
Additionally, a 2017 report, based on 2015 data, 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.
Fake reviews mislead readers.
Although there is some evidence that online reviews provide trustworthy information, there is also plenty of evidence that sites such as Facebook, Yelp, and Google contain fake reviews. How does this happen? Medical practices may pay people to post fake reviews, or trade fake reviews with another practice, or use bots to create fake reviews.
Unfortunately, the practice is likely widespread. For instance, a June 2021 Washington Post report states there are dozens of Facebook groups where medical practices (and other businesses) buy and sell fraudulent reviews. Furthermore, one expert estimates that about 20% of business reviews in the healthcare industry, including doctor reviews, have suspicious review activity on Google and Yelp.
How can you tell if you a review is fake?
With a little detective work, you may be able to spot fake reviews by looking for:
- Duplicate text in more than one review
- Text that doesn’t make sense – for instance, mentioning dental work when the review is for a cardiologist.
Additionally, when looking at reviews on Yelp, scroll down to the bottom of the review list and look for a link that says “## other reviews that are not currently recommended”. Click on this link and you will find more reviews to look over, possible even some 1-star reviews.
Importantly, just because some reviews on a site are fake, it doesn’t mean they are all fake.
Are reviews worth reading?
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 or fake, 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, 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 other patients 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 6-7-23.