How To Choose A Doctor

Finding the perfect doctor doesn’t need to be a daunting task, according to five doctors interviewed by New York Magazine. Like kids to an ice cream truck, the best doctors flow to the best hospitals. When in doubt, look for your local teaching hospital. If you have a particular malady that calls for a specialist, check the hospital department’s website for a list of potential doctors and start checking credentials. Referrals from friends and colleagues can also help, especially when it’s time to make an appointment.

It’s all about who referred you. If you don’t have someone who referred you to them, then you’re sort of in the general pool with everybody else. The second most important factor is what insurance you have. Doctors will pick.

How did you find your doctor? Tell us in the comments. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

What’s Up, Docs? [New York Magazine]

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  1. MercuryPDX says:

    (Wow, just replied similarly on the forums)

    I don’t have a doctor, I just use Urgent Care/Emergency Room. I’m fairly healthy, and the few times I’ve been too sick to tough it out the doctor had no appointments available for up to two weeks. I just wait until it’s later in the night when the ER is quiet (8pm to 10PM seems to be the best time to go), and just drive over. It’s just $5 more than the regular copay, I get seen and treated right away without an appointment.

    In the last 5 years, I’ve been to urgent care three times.
    1) Scarlet fever
    2) Severe Strep Throat
    3) Ear Infection

  2. jeffj-nj says:

    I’ll tell you how to choose a doctor, in three simple steps.

    1. Call a random doctor’s office.
    2. If a human answers, you found your doctor.
    3. If you’re asked to select a choice from the following prompts, go to step 1.

    I call doctors’ offices all day, every day (well except weekends) for work and absolutely can not stand those menus. I ignore every single one of them. I mean, I really just don’t listen to a damn word. They could be giving out winning lotto numbers for all I know. I never hear them. I can’t even be bothered to press zero. I just wait until someone eventually picks up. If no one picks up, then, and only then, will I call back and press 0 – again, without listening. Did I mention how much I hate these things? I despise them.

    I once heard one that said, “…if you are in labor, press 4…”

    FOUR?! Are you kidding me?! You gave me three options before that one? How is that not the first freaking choice? Ridiculous.

    Why did I hear what they were saying, you may ask, when I clearly stated above that I never, ever do that. Well, listening is plan C. It’s behind waiting until someone answers and pressing zero. It is a last resort. Usually, these calls are bumped to the bottom of my queue.

    And, fwiw, offices want to hear from me. I won’t go into details, but when I call, it’s typically with a message that someone is waiting for.

    My doctor’s office does, indeed, not have such a system “answering” their phones for them. If they ever adopt one, I will change offices.

  3. jeffj-nj says:

    … phew … that felt good to let out …

    PS: What do I do to pass the time while I ignore automated prompts?

    Browse the web, of course.

  4. gorckat says:

    I picked my doctor from the insurance book about 5 years ago. I’ve switched jobs, and insurance several times, moved 15 minutes farther away (from a ~5 minute drive), will be soon moving another 20-25 minutes farther away, and intend to keep the same doctor.

    It is a small 3 doctor family practice and having built the relationship I have, it is no doubt worth the occasional 45 minute drive to get to them.

    It does help that the doctor’s office is between my new home and work, which will cut down a good deal of the ‘inconvenience’ for routine/non-urgent stuff.

    I think what I’m saying is I got lucky so I have no idea how to help someone else pick a doctor…actually- there was one time we had to use a more local doctor (I forget why) and they handled themselves spectacularly, so I’d have chosen them, too.

    Customer service is the make and break item, I suppose. Here’s a good scenario, which has come up several times for my family:

    Assume you had to visit an ER over the weekend (injured limb is a good example) and need to see a specialist (whatever the bone guys are called)- will the doctor make you come into the office to pick up the insurance mandated referral or will they just fax it over for you?

  5. Enola #### says:

    When I was hospitalized last year for a serious lung problem, I asked the pulmonologist for a referral to a GP. It was really important to have the two of them in communication.

    I am treated at a university medical center and all my lab tests, lists of prescription meds and medical history can be accessed at any time by my team of doctors, and it makes things much easier all the way around. I highly recommend this setup for anyone who has a complicated medical situation.

  6. Papercutninja says:

    Word of mouth is usually the best way to find a doctor. I went to my doctor for the first time last week. My sister liked the guy and recommended him to me. He’s younger and actually says to email him with any non-urgent questions. And he answers them too!!

  7. britne says:

    I think it’s important to consider the staff at the doctor’s office too. I recently left my doctor’s office completely because they were always understaffed, the phone went unanswered, and the people who were there were just plain rude and ignorant. Lost files, wrong information… stuff like that is as important to me as the 10 minutes I’m acutally talking to the doc. You have to deal with the staff a lot more.

  8. britne says:

    so… does anyone know how to find a great doc with decent staff, too?

  9. acambras says:

    I have a great doctor. I found the family practice that she’s with through my insurance company’s list. When I called them, they gave me an appointment with her — she was new to that group, so she had the most availability.

    Like gorckat, I have since moved, but going to her is worth the trip. The practice is great about fitting in walk-ins, and if she’s not there, I can see one of her colleagues, who are all good too. And the nurses and clerical people friendly and helpful — the importance of this to me cannot be overstated. It sucks when you don’t feel well, so snippy office people are really the last thing you want to deal with.

  10. I found a doc by reccommendation. Highly reccommended. He was GOD AWFUL. Practice so full I only got in because of the referrer. I’m not sure if his practice is so booked he no longer cares, or if he’s getting old, but he was crap. He was supposed to biopsy a mole on my husband and couldn’t remember which mole. He told me he didn’t believe in depression as a medical condition and wouldn’t treat it. He also refused to treat sinus infections EVEN WITH RX STRENGTH DECONGESTANTS. I understand if you don’t want to overprescribe antibiotics but for God’s sake, I HAVE TO WORK. At least give me something for the symptoms!

    This happened to me another time when a doctor I’d been with for years reccommended a doc for a specific condition. She was the head of the department at a major research university hospital. She may have been a brilliant research doctor, but her bedside manner SUCKED and she was the worst diagnostician I have ever met.

    I quit both those doctors.

    After that one who didn’t believe in depression or sinus infections (or, apparently, appropriate recording keeping about WHICH MOLE TO BIOPSY), I actually started interviewing doctors and staff before I picked a new one. I explained to the staff what I was looking for in a doctor and asked if there was a doctor like that in their practice, and if they thought the doctor would work well with a patient like me (i.e., involved and active in making decisions. As I’m sure you all know, some doctors can’t abide that). Once I settled on a couple I liked, I made an appointment to interview the first doctor on my list. (Made it was a “checkup.”) I explained to her my god-awful prior experience and what I needed in a doctor. She talked with me for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES about treatment strategies and philosophy of practice and so forth. This woman is FANTASTIC.

    I’m now doing the same thing looking for an ob/gyn. I have reccommendations from my primary care doc and I put out an e-mail to a women’s list asking for reccommendations. I think I’ve narrowed it down to two practices so I’ll call and ask to interview the docs.

    I also teach medical ethics at the local college (this is part of why I’m such an active patient), and I get a lot of continuing ed students, so I’m asking all the nurses I have in my classes who they like. Nurses have the straight dope.

  11. acambras says:

    @britne:

    I think you just have to do some shopping around, like Eyebrows McGee, or luck out on the first try, like me.

    When I say I lucked out on the first try, I mean the first try since moving to this state a few years ago. I have certainly been through my share of bad doctors. The one Eyebrows describes above is what my mother would call an M.Deity.

  12. @acambras: “The one Eyebrows describes above is what my mother would call an M.Deity.”

    BWAH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

    M.Deity is going into my syllabus!

  13. jmorgans says:

    As a few people did, ask a health professional that you know and trust for a recommendation. Could be a doctor, nurse, tech, whatever. Within these circles, everyone knows who is aggressive, who is conservative, who will spend time with their patients, who will blow them off, etc.

  14. Papercutninja says:

    The nurse comment is great. They do most of the work for the docs (in the hospitals anyway), so they do have the inside scoop on who is good, who no longer cares etc etc.

  15. minneapolisite says:

    My last doctor’s appointment was like an infomercial for various psychotropic and STD related drugs. I went in with a SORE THROUGH and JAW PAIN. Fortunately, I had better luck with my dentist was able to refer me to a clinic. For anyone in the Minneapolist area, avoid Dr Cape of Park Nicolet clinics!

  16. kelmeister says:

    I’m having the problem where I’m finding doctors I love and then they’re dropped by my insurance. I have UHC through work, and in the last six years or so, I’ve had four primary care physicians. I’m currently being seen every three months on follow-up following surgery, and just a few weeks ago I received a letter from my doctor that the “negotiations” between UHC and the practice are not “going as well as hoped.” Before it was just damned inconvenient, but now that I actually need to keep some sort of consistency of care going it’s pissing me off. I’m already paying out of pocket for premiums; I can’t afford to take on out-of-network charges, too.

  17. kaikhor says:

    I currently use with a “learning hospital/family practice”. I have a main, head doctor and then they assign a resident to my case. If my resident isn’t in, I either see the head doctor or another resident on his team I loved the resident I had, but she is leaving in July. I also love my head doctor. Both have a great bedside manner and listen. Unfortunately, I was just assigned a new resident (I’m pregnant, means I’m in constantly) and I can’t stand her. She has no bedside manner and treated me very poorly on my one visit with her. Not looking forward to the next one, let me tell you.

  18. ShadowFalls says:

    Finding a good doctor is a daunting task depending on your insurance. If you have medicaid, this is one of the biggest issues. It seems like, and don’t take this the wrong way, but mostly foreigner doctors of Indian descent take insurance such as medicaid. To get a better doctor choice, you need medicare or some other good insurance. Even then you can end up with incompetence, being referred is not everything, each person and situation is different.

  19. facted says:

    @MercuryPDX: The big problem with this setup, is lack of continuity of care. The ER system is not designed to be your PMD. It’s designed for…Emergencies. The system is already vastly overburdened, and if people continue to use it as their first line of care, it will only get worse (and the waiting too!).

    As for the continuity of care, having a PMD allows you to have a doctor that always knows your case, your symptoms, your history, etc… ER physicians have access to all your records at that hospital, but when they have 20 patients to see, you’d better believe they simply can’t search back through your 17 visits and try to piece together what you have. They simply treat whatever it going on acutely, and that’s a dangerous way to practice medicine.

  20. ElizabethD says:

    At my last post-childbirth visit, I asked the obstetrician whom he would send his wife or daughter to for primary care. He immediately named my present doctor. I have been very happy with my doc for 15 years now. I use variations of this question whenever I’m getting referrals to specialists.

  21. skechada says:

    I third the nurse comment. This is actually a timely post as I’m at this moment looking for a good internist. Just had my first proper doctor’s appointment (a family practice doc, not internist) yesterday, and even though he was recommended by a friend, I was less than impressed. My mom (a med tech for 30+ years) recommended me making friends with a couple nurses, since they have a ton of interactions with many doctors, and usually have a well-informed opinion of the best docs.

  22. dieman says:

    My wife is currently admitted to a teaching hospital and its working out well. You generally can find a ton of doctors at these hospitals who have seen ‘everything’ or know someone who has.

  23. mzs says:

    Here’s a hint: If you go in for your first visit and the staff ask you to sign paperwork that you will not sue for malpractice, get out.

    Yup that happened to me, but I stayed. You get what you deserved when said doc diagnoses you with genital herpes and you are leaving on the verge of tears wondering who your spouse had been cheating on you with.

    Luckily I am still married because as I was leaving I saw a dermatologist office was in the same complex. I just could not believe my wife had cheated on me and I went in and talked to the staff. When the doctor saw me he told me it was simply a yeast infection and that the first doctor that saw me was a complete moron.

    Second hint about a bad doctor is when the nurse comes in telling the doc there is an urgent phone call waiting for him and you can here him on the other side of the door talking on the phone about a basketball game.

  24. gibbersome says:

    I don’t agree with going to a teaching hospital for the best care. Research doctors don’t necessarily get as much exposure and experience with patients as clinical doctors do.