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How to Choose the Right Doctor for You and Your Family

Choose the Right Doctor

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Jan. 19, 2001 -- Whether you're new in town, your insurance coverage has changed, or you're facing a health concern that calls for a specialist, chances are that you'll be looking for a new doctor at some point. But finding a physician you'll be happy with can take a lot of effort on your part.

According to experts, people often choose a doctor based on gender. But researchers in northern California say that using gender to make your decision doesn't always mean you'll be satisfied with your medical care. And although the three A's -- affability, availability, ability -- are important, you also should look at the C's -- credentials, certification, competence, and convenience.

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So just how do you go about picking a doctor? One way is to use the Internet, where medical organizations including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many others list their members and their qualifications. A number of hospitals and medical centers also provide such information.

In addition, some hospital systems offer call-in services that can provide detailed information on physicians who practice in their facilities.

Dottie McCluskey is director of telemanagement for Texas Health Resources, which operates the Well Call Center for Harris Methodist hospitals and Presbyterian Healthcare System in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan area. The service, free to both doctors and patients, makes physician referrals for 5,000 doctors who practice at 11 hospitals. They receive about 35,000 requests for referrals each year.

According to McCluskey, the first thing you should do when searching for a doctor is to determine what's important to you.

"The call should start with the caller themselves. They should think about the profile of the physician they want before they call. That really helps us," she tells WebMD.

The patient should consider whether they want a doctor near their work or their home, if they need a specialist or a primary care physician, and if they need someone who treats senior citizens and who accepts Medicare, McCluskey says.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend deciding if the hospitals where the doctor practices will be a factor in your decision.

Other considerations from the NIH that may be important to you are:

  • Age, sex, race, or religion of the doctor
  • Single doctor or group practice
  • Office hours
  • Average length of office visit
  • Handling of emergency calls
  • A substitute for the doctor if he/she is away

Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, MD, president of the American Society of Internal Medicine, says to call friends, local hospitals, and medical societies to find names of physicians. "A lot of times, the same names will come up. Narrow it down to three to five, then call the offices," she recommends. "See how it feels -- if you can get through or you are put on hold a lot."

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