Think about it — a lot of our best choices start with word-of-mouth recommendations. Your favorite restaurant, what gym you choose to work out in and what movies you go watch. But the stakes of a bad restaurant recommendation are entirely different than making a decision on the best pediatrician for your child or cardiologist for your spouse.
The good news is new online tools make it easier for you to validate your recommendations. Combine this online research with our tested steps for choosing a doctor and you will feel more in control of the process and be better prepared for putting your family’s health in the hands of the right clinician at the right time.
We recommend the following process for choosing a doctor:
- Understand your situation – we are all unique. You and your family will have their own unique medical profile. Maybe it includes juvenile diabetes or a congenital heart defect. Maybe there are behavioral issues or environmental problems like urban induced asthma or childhood obesity. Maybe you need evening hours, or are more comfortable with a female doctor. Whatever it is, write them down. Your doctor and their staff should be experienced with situations like yours. Don’t be embarrassed about asking questions of your prospective doctor. If they refuse to answer your questions, you know to go somewhere else.
- Get referrals and narrow down your list. Make your list of possible doctors in as broad a geographic setting as you feel comfortable. This is when you ask friends and family for recommendations. I always start with a post on Facebook asking my friends and family for their doctor recommendations. You should also visit your insurance company’s “find a doctor” section. Use these referrals, your drive-time and insurance coverage to narrow your search to a manageable number of doctors. Having 4-6 possible physicians on your list is perfect.
- Conduct a background check on your short list. Use the internet to verify their credentials and look up reviews. I always start with a Google search. Type in the doctor’s name and look at the first few results. Then type in the name with the word “review”. I might also try the Doctor’s name with the word “complaint”, “fraud” or “malpractice” to see if there are an excessive amount of complaints. A word of warning: unhappy customers are more likely to write a review than happy customers — one bad review may not be the doctors fault, but 15 unhappy patients tells a pretty definitive story. You can also use 3rd party review sites. Websites like Healthgrades.com, ucomparehealthcare.com and vitals.com provide detailed reports of physicians as well as patient reviews. They are a good source of information. Don’t just look at the patient reviews; there is a lot of information on these sites to help you narrow down your list. I look for physicians that attended prestigious universities or academic health centers. Being the smartest in your class doesn’t make you the best, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. At the end of this step, you should be able to narrow your list to a top 2 or 3.
- Conduct an Interview. Once you compile your research, make an appointment with the doctor wither in person or via the phone. Many specialists will offer a free consultation with the physician to review your case. Come prepared to this meeting. Show up at the appointment with your questions and let him know you are trying to find the write doctor for your family. Ask the physician if he has treated patients like you and how frequently he sees patients like you. The way the physicians treat you during this process will give some insight into how they will treat you when you are sick. Once you have met with a couple of doctors choose the one you feel most comfortable with.
The good news is you can always change your mind. If you are uncomfortable with the treatment you are receiving, get a second or third opinion. There is nothing more important than you and your family’s health.
One last point — it is important to remember your physician is running a business. While he certainly should have your best interests in mind, they want to make more money just like you. You wouldn’t want the realtor for the house you want to buy being the one advising you on the offer you should make. Treat choosing a doctor no differently than buying a car or a house.
About the Author
Bill Paquin is a patient care advocate and CEO of healthcare publisher, Vertical Health. He operates websites including SpineUniverse, a leader in providing education about conditions of the spine including osteoporosis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, and arthritis. Bill is a husband, father and writer who is passionate about and supports the creative destruction of our current healthcare system.