How To Pick A Good Doctor

“Most people spend more time picking out a can of beans than a new doctor,” says one expert in a Chicago Tribune article about how to find a properly licensed doctor that you’ll get along with. He and other experts recommend you arrange for a “first date” sort of interview, so you can ask general questions and get an overall feel for both the doctor and the practice, before the time comes when you need a doctor and don’t have the luxury of shopping around.

They suggest starting with an online directory like DoctorFinder, then confirm that your insurance plan will honor their charges. Call the doctor and find out what hospitals he or she uses, and do some background research via whatever online license look-up services your state offers.

You’ll probably have to pay for the interview yourself, unless you find a young doctor willing to offer a free meet-and-greet to help build a practice. Prepare your questions ahead of time so that you don’t get flustered and forget anything on the day of your interview—the article has a long list of things to think about asking.

“Shopping for a doctor” [Chicago Tribune]

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AMA DoctorFinder [American Medical Association]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. Bay State Darren says:

    Properly licensed? Does that really matter?

  2. mantari says:

    Good timing. I’m wanting to ditch my doctor after multiple mistakes (smaller things so far), and a really cold office staff.

  3. KingPsyz says:

    UGH, I can attest, no I didn’t get to do much research on the OB/GYN for my girlfriend’s pregnancy and the Pediatrician for my son. Went with what’s covered by my insurance and who they allow.

    That being said, I like our kid’s doctor. I just hate her staff. They still have him down as a girl and with her last name in their system and they waited 12 hours to send a prescription over last night…

    I can’t wait to spend an entire day going through the plan book and picking new doctors.

  4. Charles Duffy says:

    It doesn’t hurt to ask other local doctors who they’d recommend; except for ER surgeons and the like (who travel and thus don’t necessarily know all the locals) they generally seem pretty much know each other. (Additionally, they’ll typically know who’s an asshole or who has bad business sense and may not be in the same place in six months or the like).

    At least, that’s the impression that I get; I work with and for a bunch of doctors (startup making EHR software), and they generally know who in town is good at any given specialty and what’s going ’round the local rumor mill for their profession.

  5. BigNutty says:

    An interview with a doctor? Are you crazy? What decent doctor has time to conduct patient interviews? Just check the doc out on the web if you so desire, and ask some friends or others in your area who they use and recommend.

    Make an appointment and see if you like the doc or not.

  6. RvLeshrac says:

    @BigNutty:

    A decent doctor *always* has time to meet a patient’s concerns, or will make time.

    This is why crackpot BS like homeopathy keeps gaining ground, because the homepathy/etc quacks make the time to talk with their patients.

    Plenty of evidence suggests that that’s a reason homeopathy “works” for people with non-serious ailments. Placebo is much more effective when the caregiver sits down and actually interacts with the patient.

  7. RvLeshrac says:

    @Bay State Darren:

    And yes, it does matter. Quite a lot.

    I hope you were being facetious!

  8. Benny Gesserit says:

    @RvLeshrac: I initially agreed with his statement. Hear me out: As KINGPSYZ mentioned above, you likely have a plan book (assume it’s issued by your health care plan group) that lists the doctors you can visit.

    Are you saying the doctors listed there might not be qualified to practice – that the ob/gyn on their list may only be marginally schooled in that specialty.

    If so, my little canadian mind is blown. And I thought I was in a crap-shoot when I showed up at ER and got a emerg doctor I’d never seen before. Sheesh.

  9. Exek says:

    my health insurance Aetna has a docfind page on their website that also shows what hospitals the doc uses, where the doc went to school, when he/she graduated and reviews from other patients. Thats what I used to get the doc I have today.

  10. @BigNutty: “What decent doctor has time to conduct patient interviews?”

    Good ones. It actually should have been a red flag with my last doctor, whom I finally had to “fire,” that he didn’t have time to talk to me when I initially went to see him for a wellness exam and I wanted to ask some questions about my overall health and get a feel for his treatment style. That might have clued me into the fact that he prefers patients not participate in their own health care, ignores self-reported symptoms (like, oh, say, PAIN), and doesn’t believe in either mental illness or sinus infections.

    With my CURRENT doctor I told the office staff when I called that I wanted to “interview” the doctor, so they set me up for a wellness visit with 15 extra minutes tacked on the end so I’d be sure to have enough time.

    It IS a little easier to get interview time if you combine it with a checkup, and it’s always easier to get more time with younger doctors or doctors new to the area, whose practices aren’t full yet. But if a doctor won’t talk to you, you probably don’t want to be seeing that doctor for your primary care.

    I’ve had the best results with asking around, as extensively as possible. I got literally more than 100 recommendations before picking an ob/gyn recently — from my doctor, from local med mal attorneys, from doctors I know socially, and from basically everyone I know with a vagina. Two local practices came out the clear winners.

    I’m actually not thrilled with the office staff at either my GP or my ob/gyn, but they’re competent and those positions tend to turn over, and the doctor I had to fire had AWESOME office staff, which didn’t reflect at all on his ability (or lack thereof) to practice medicine. As long as the nurses are good.

  11. bohemian says:

    Doctor referrals are not always honest advice. Some of our local clinic groups will only refer within the other affiliated clinics that are loosely tied to the same hospital chain. Some doctors also get a “finders fee” for sending people to certain specialists.

    Our state medical board is a joke. There is no oversight, they only report official final actions, not number of complaints and the board never takes final action on anyone. There was a doctor in town that refused to treat a seriously ill patient on the grounds that the person offended his morals. The doctor and hospital were sued and lost but this still has a squeaky clean record with the medical board.

    Find a local support group or non profit that deals with whatever medical condition, or talk to other people with similar medical needs to get referrals.

  12. AlisonAshleigh says:

    Ugh I picked an OBGYN out of the phone book, HUGE MISTAKE. I now drive over an hour to see an AMAZING doctor instead, and she has given me wonderful referalls to specialists. She is the ONLY doctor who has actually listened to me when I tell her that no matter how nice she is, I’m still going to be nervous as fuck and flip out if she so much as has to take my blood pressure.
    And she gives me really fun sedatives when I have to see someone else, and calls to tell them that I get nervous so I’ll be drugged :-) If anyone needs a Dr. in the south of boston area, let me know!

  13. @BigNutty: I was wondering what patient has time to do that before Eyebrows McGee suggested doing it right after a normal appointment.

    I’ve yet to get an OBGYN I’m happy with. If I ask if the doctor’s treated patients with my condition before they’ll say yes but then they don’t want to discuss my symptoms or if the medication is working. I’d go to an endocrinologist but there’s only one in the city and word on the street is he’s an asshole.

  14. tspack says:

    Asking friends or family for recommendations has proven most useful for me. Sometimes that doesn’t work (for example, I needed an allergist this year, and no one I talked to had ever been to one, so I just picked one with an office in an area I was familiar with from my insurance company’s website), but so far that has led to doctors I’ve liked.

  15. vanillabean says:

    I don’t mind if dr.s are assholes. I care that they are competent medically. You can’t get a sense of that in an interview.

  16. Trai_Dep says:

    What my HR person said was, find the best hospital in your area (or ask HR, they have a rough idea). Then find doctors that have privileges to practice there. That are on your list. Good hospitals don’t let bad doctors practice in their hospital, so it serves as a rough quality-control test. Says nothing about bedside manner, but it’s a start.

  17. @Rectilinear Propagation: “Eyebrows McGee suggested doing it right after a normal appointment.”

    (I meant to get back to this earlier but didn’t have computer access.)

    What I actually do is do it at the FRONT of the normal appointment. When I call to make the appointment, I tell the desk staff that I’m looking for a doctor and I’d like to schedule a wellness checkup and interview the doctor at the same time, to “see if we’re a good fit.” It’s getting more and more common, and I’ve only rarely been refused (in which case, obviously, I did not go there).

    And I do make sure to write down my concerns/goals/what I want in a doctor and present them as concisely as possible. I also do present it as “looking for a good fit,” because there are plenty of perfectly fine doctors out there who just aren’t a good fit with a particular patient. I don’t present it as the Spanish Inquisition or a “pass/fail” situation.

    Before any of that (re concerns farther up the thread about finding a competent doctor), I first of all get some recommendations, then narrow it down by looking up med school, residency, specializations, etc. And I run it by friends who do med mal just to find out if there’s a “bad buzz” on the doctor. I only go ahead with calling physicians who are both recommended by their patients AND who have all the necessary qualifications, hospital privileges, etc. Typically when I bother to do the research it only takes me 1 try to find a good doctor I can work with. Once it took two, because the doctor I was most interested in refused the interview exam.

    A lot of doctors are actually pretty flattered you took the time to look up where they went to school. :)

    As for specialists, I’m not real concerned about their bedside manner or whether we’re a “good fit.” If you’re just pulling my wisdom teeth/testing me for allergies/doing my CAT scan, we don’t need to be best buds. But for a primary care provider, ob/gyn, or pediatrician, you’re going to be with this person a long time, and a good personality fit is important.

  18. UpsetPanda says:

    I want House. That’s it. I want Dr. Gregory House, curmudgeon with a cane.

  19. RvLeshrac says:

    @Jim (The Canuck One):

    Stranger things have happened.

    Seriously, though, an HMO doesn’t really care what qualifications a physician has, generally speaking, as long as they aren’t liable to cause a lawsuit.

    That means that one of the physicians in the book may have excellent credentials, while another one may have attended the Phillip J. Quack Correspondence Course.

  20. themanishere says:

    Hmmm. I know about 200 doctors. Each one of them is different in every way. I’d probably only want to be seen by about two of them.

    Here’s the deal. Health care companies (and the clinics admin ‘haters’) tell the doctors what to do, and the doctors are tired of being beat up for trying to fight for the patient. The end result is some clerk making minimum wage controlling your health care.

    Best option: for preventive care, it does not matter as much as serious medical care where you NEED to get a second or even third medical opinion.

    Example: a woman I knew in college went to the doctor with back pain. She was told it was cancer and they started chemo and radiology asap. This fried the nerves in her middle spine leaving her in a wheelchair forever. The cancer? Turns out it was just a aneurysm. Let’s just say the malpractice insurance was in the 7-figures. But I’ll bet she’d do anything to go back in time and get that second opinion. She was smoking hot too–shame…

  21. Her Grace says:

    @RvLeshrac: I already loved you for the Zocor thread. May I be your fangirl?

  22. The only thing that I really look for when I’m looking for a doctor (especially one that I’ll see more than once) is timeliness. I will wait 20 minutes past when my appointment is scheduled, and no more. When people come to MY office for a meeting I do this thing called planning. Planning allows me to be prepared for my visitors, and to recieve them on time.

    When my doctor is unable to recieve me on time, and the reason isn’t a good one like “little timmy fell into the auger at a grain elevator and it ripped his face clean off”, I will tell his receptionist that I appreciate her time, but I will find a doctor who understands the value of his patients’ time and money. It often takes me quite a while to find a suitable doctor.

  23. @RamV10: Schedule first appointment of the day? Then they’re never late for you.

  24. alexanderpink says:

    It really is difficult to find a good doctor. I am a medical student and I have run into doctors that I would not personally go to. I have also interacted with others that were great. I think personal referrals work the best. You can’t go off of a doctors credentials or his link to an institution, etc. I have heard good and bad things from friends of mine who have gone to various doctors at our medical school. I think having a friend or family member refer you is the best bet. Try not to pick someone out of a phone book.

  25. RvLeshrac says:

    @Her Grace:

    I’m frequently an apologist for bad customer service, so don’t get too cozy. I work in retail – I trust the customers only slightly more than the corporations.

  26. Hanratty says:

    As a recovering poor person, I used to choose doctors based on price and walking distance. At the time, I was beleaguered by poverty and unable to afford a motorcar. If you go into some of these family clinics all uninsured and the like, looking like a tatterdemalion, (I usually tore my shirt just a little for dramatic effect.) doctors would often give me free medicine. Many of these doctors have piles and piles of free samples that are sent to them by the pharmaceutical companies. If a doctor wouldn’t give me a handful of colorfully-wrapped Amoxicillin in order to cure my poverty-related illness, then I found one that would. That’s how I chose doctors. Now, I use the internet. I Google-Map medical clinics or look on Xoova.com. Also, I am no longer impoverished. I tell people that I ate some lightly-poisoned stew at a soup kitchen and got some money out of a class-action suit, so they don’t think that I’m a sellout, but really I just grew up and got a job.

  27. RvLeshrac says:

    @Hanratty:

    I once had to walk to the bus stop and take a somewhat crowded bus to the doctor’s office with a lovely case of pericarditis. By all rights, I probably should have died on the way.

    I still need to pay that doctor, actually. I think I owe them like $100 total. They never bring it up whenever I have a dire emergency, though (the, well, once every 5-6 years I actually have to go in). *THAT* is the definition of a good physician.

    I doubt I’ll have the same luck if I have to go back to the Wellstar emergency room. Some twit of a cardiologist refused to take the ECG I had from the primary-care doctor (which they gave me for free, since I couldn’t pay), and absolutely refused to listen to anything I had to say about my health.

    Gave me a full blood workup, a new ECG, and made me sit for six hours waiting on him, only to come back and tell me exactly what I told him when I came in – pericarditis, textbook case. Then charged me $300 later, billed seperately from my ER visit (which was $1600, fortunately cut down to $1k, thanks to my low income). I haven’t paid him, never will, and wouldn’t even deign to pee on him were he on fire.

    Though I might hand him an oil-soaked rag.

  28. ZugTheMegasaurus says:

    I had a personality conflict with my former doctor. I wanted a sort of mechanic-to-owner relationship (as in I think something is wrong so I go to someone who could tell me what it is); she was a “let’s be friends” type. Creeped me out. I found out that a good method to find a new doctor is just to ask the staff. I mentioned the issue to one of the nurses and she said she felt the same way with that doctor; she referred me to another doctor in the same practice, and was absolutely right (much better fit).