Finding a Primary Doctor in the Digital Age

Looking for a good primary doctor? Your best bet is usually word of mouth. But that’s not so easy if you’re new in town or your health plan limits the doctors you can see. What’s more, you’ll probably want to do some research after you get recommendations.

Enter the internet. You read about restaurants and smart phones online. You can read all about doctors, too.

What to Search For

The right fit for your insurance. First, ask your insurance provider for an up-to-date list of doctors in your network. Then look for primary docs in your area and start your search. Don’t give up if you don’t find everything in one place. Some websites list only the basics, like specialty and office location. To get a complete picture, you may need to check a few sources.

Hospital affiliation. If you need to go to the hospital, you usually end up wherever your doctor can admit people (called admitting privileges). But some hospitals are better than others and have better outcomes. Medicare’s website has a feature called “Hospital Compare” that rates most hospitals, including VA and military medical centers.

Board certification. Choose doctors who are board certified. This means they have at least 3 years of advanced training (called residency) after medical school. They also have a license from a state medical board and they’ve passed certain tests. Most primary docs are board certified in family medicine or internal medicine. Kids’ doctors are certified in pediatrics.

Make sure your doctor is board certified, not board eligible. The American Board of Medical Specialties has a website (certificationmatters.org) that can help you find out.

Black marks. Has a doctor harmed someone in their care? Have they been in trouble for other reasons? You might have to dig deep to find out. Start with the website of the Federation of State Medical Boards. It lists education, certification, and license info, and you can find any actions against the doctor. You can also check with the medical board in your state. Or try a Google search.

Dollars for docs. Some doctors invest in companies that make drugs or medical devices like stents. Others get research money or other benefits from drugmakers. All of this can influence how a doctor selects your treatment options. Medicare has a website (openpaymentsdata.cms.gov) that can tell you what you need to know.

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Online Reviews?

You probably don’t care much about where your doctor went to medical school. You probably do care if a doctor has a good bedside manner and can help you get well. But how do you know ahead of time? Websites where people review doctors try to answer that question. They usually rate how well the doctor:

  • Listens
  • Keeps on time
  • Explains medical problems

They may even rate the office staff and how long you have to wait to get in. These reviews are fun to read, but they can have problems.

First, they’re opinions, not facts. What one person thinks is a good doctor might be different from what you think. Worse, some reviews are phony or paid ads, but there’s no way to find that out.

Get to Know Your Doc

After you do your homework online, go to one of the doctors you picked for your next appointment. See if you click. You should trust and feel relaxed with them.

Did the doctor listen to you? Was the information you got from the doctor clear and easy to understand? Do you and your doctor see eye-to-eye on the goals of treatment?

If the answer to any of these is no, you might want to move on to your next choice.

Check Out the Office

If the staff isn’t helpful and friendly, it might not be the right place.  

You’ll also want to know:

  • How electronic medical records are kept
  • How things like follow up for labs and pharmacy requests work
  • What kind of online presence does the office have? Does the office have a place where you can see your records whenever you want? Can you make appointments, get lab results, or ask for prescription refills online?
  • Can you email the doctor or nurse with questions or concerns?

Don’t be afraid to “sample” a few doctors. This is one of the most important health care decisions you make. It’s worth the time to get it right.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on September 20, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Blue Cross/Blue Shield: “Five tips for choosing a new primary care physician.”

The New York Times: “Insurer’s Flawed Directories Leave Patients Scrambling for In-Network Doctors.”

 ConsumerReports.org: “How to Find a Good Doctor.”

Medicare.gov: “Hospital Compare.”

American Board of Physician Specialties (Certificationmatters.org).

Docinfo.org.

Forbes.com: “Does Your Doctor Have Malpractice Claims? How to Find Out.”

Opendatapayment.org.

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