Chances are high that you’ve wondered: “Who’s the best doctor near me?”
Unfortunately, this question can be tricky to answer. Everyone wants a doctor they get along with well, who accepts their insurance, and who actually has time available for appointments.
And if you want to find the best holistic doctor near you–one who limits their pharmaceutical prescriptions, uses nutrition and other integrative approaches, and treats the underlying causes rather than the symptoms–it’s even more difficult to find a perfect match.
Whether you’re choosing a primary care doctor, a surgeon, or a facility like a hospital, you can use these valuable tips to help you find the best doctor near you and steer clear of questionable providers.
Who’s the Best Doctor Near Me? Use These 8 Tips to Find the Answer
#1: Use These Online Tools to Find a Doctor
Online services are the most convenient way to search for doctors near you. The best way to start is by typing or writing up a list of promising physicians in your region. Then you can narrow it down later (based on the other tips in this article).
Here are some of the best free online tools you can use to track down nearby doctors:
- Medicare.gov’s Physician Compare tool is easy to use, and finds physicians who accept Medicare–so you don’t need to be on Medicare to use it.
- The MedlinePlus.gov Directories are great for tracking down specialists in your area.
- Healthgrades allows you to search by location or specialty.
- Zocdoc allows you to search by location or specialty, and you can also narrow results down by your insurance coverage.
- RateMDs is another search directory to try.
- You can visit your insurance provider’s website (or call them) to get a list of doctors in your area who accept your insurance.
While no website works perfectly for finding doctors, it’s the easiest way to begin your search.
#2: Word of Mouth Still Works, Too
Should your online search efforts yield disappointing results, the old-fashioned method of finding a doctor may work better for you.
Take the time to ask friends, family members, co-workers, or people who have similar health care needs to yours. That way you have a great chance of finding a physician who’s a good fit for your needs.
#3: Do a Background Check On Your Doctor
Hopefully by this time you’ve got a few different doctors in mind and have jotted down a list.
Once you have several different potential candidates, the next step is to narrow down your results. You can do this by checking into the background of each doctor (or facility).
Although most people never perform this act of diligence, you’ll be doing yourself a favor by going the extra mile.
You can use the internet to check for disciplinary actions, malpractice claims, surgical complication rate (for surgeons), medical licensure and education, and board certification credentials.
Here’s how to uncover any disciplinary actions:
- Use the Administrators in Medicine (AIM) DocFinder tool.
- Alternatively, the Castle Connolly website also offers a disciplinary search.
- The DocInfo website may yield results not found on other sites.
In addition to the above resources, the Federation of State Medical Boards website lists all state medical boards. Your state medical board may list pending actions or other results that don’t show up in national databases. You can also contact them via email or telephone to inquire about a doctor’s record.
For disciplinary actions against institutions or facilities, find your state’s listing on the CDC national directory of health departments. You can also get useful information from the Medicare Hospital Compare tool.
Sometimes malpractice claims will show up in other records. However, if you want to be thorough, you can perform an online search for the doctor’s name + malpractice, malpractice suit, or malpractice claim.
Surgical Complication Rate
The ProPublica Surgeon Scorecard lists surgical complication rates by doctor and hospital and compares them to the national average. Surgeon Ratings by Consumers’ Checkbook does the same.
To check whether a doctor is board-certified, use Certification Matters. Not all good doctors are board-certified, but it does add some extra assurance.
Finally, you can use the following resources to learn even more about a doctor’s ethics and behavior:
- CMS Open Payments and ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs both yield info about payments doctors receive from pharmaceutical companies.
- Prescriber Checkup by ProPublica tells you if doctors overprescribe certain medications.
#4: Weigh Location and Availability Against Other Factors
By now, you’ve probably gone from a long list to a shorter list.
Compared to the other steps, this one’s easy: take a look at your top candidates and figure out how far they are from you. Is it worth it to travel twice as far for one doctor over another?
A study from the University of Michigan showed that as patients’ distance from their doctor increased, so did their disease burden. That’s because when you don’t feel well, it’s hard to motivate yourself to drive farther.
Now is also a good time to call their offices and check for availability. No matter how compatible a doctor may be with your needs, if there’s no availability (or an unacceptably long wait for an appointment) it’s not going to work.
You should also ask their office staff how far in advance established patients need to make appointments.
Last, don’t forget to double-check whether the office accepts your health insurance; websites or directories may be out of date, so the safest method is to ask directly over the phone.
#5: Do You Prefer a Male or Female Doctor?
It may seem like a silly question, but you need to consider if you might be more comfortable with either a male or a female doctor.
There’s no wrong answer, but your feelings around gender make a big difference in your comfort level and the long-term relationship you build with a physician.
If you have no underlying preference, consider that some research shows women doctors tend to take more time and listen more, on average, than men doctors. According to one study, patients of female physicians also have a slightly lower mortality rate.
While the gender of your doctor may not be the most essential consideration, it’s worth a moment to ponder.
#6: Prepare For the Visit in Advance
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to the very best candidates, the next step is to schedule a visit, but that doesn’t mean you’re done with the decision-making process.
Scheduling an annual check-up and preventive care visit will let you see how you feel about the doctor face-to-face. However, you need to do your part by preparing for the visit in advance.
If you haven’t already, begin by double-checking that they accept your insurance provider.
Before the visit, write down any questions, concerns, and health problems, as well as symptoms you’ve experienced. If possible, bring along a printout of your full medical history, too.
Be sure to arrive on time and bring your identification and insurance card.
#7: Consider This During the Appointment With the Physician
During your appointment, pay attention to your experience. Do you feel rushed, or do you get the sense that the physician is taking his or her time and listening? Do you feel comfortable sharing thoughts, questions, and concerns with the doctor?
Since it’s your first visit, it’s appropriate to treat it something like an interview. Now is the time to politely ask questions. For example, if you have a medical condition: “Would you consider yourself comfortable and experienced in treating my medical condition?”
If you’re considering having a surgery or other procedure performed, it’s a good idea to ask about the doctor’s experience and complication rate with the procedure.
In some cases, it makes sense to look at how healthy the doctor happens to be. If a primary care physician smokes or is overweight, it can be difficult to take their health advice seriously.
You can also ask the office for its policies, and most facilities will also have a “Patient’s Bill of Rights” you can obtain.
If you want, you can ask for information and records on visits made and gifts given by pharmaceutical drug reps..
As you exit your appointment, it’s time to begin thinking about how the experience went. Just because you went once doesn’t mean you have to go back.
And if you didn’t feel valued, or the doctor didn’t seem engaged, or you felt the office wasted your time, it might be time to look further down your list.
#8: Seek a Second (Or Third) Opinion In These Situations
If you visited a surgeon or other specialist, it pays to find a second or third opinion before getting a major procedure done, or undertaking an extensive treatment regimen.
No matter how good your interpersonal experience was, you’re responsible for managing your medical decisions. That’s why it’s always best to seek more expert opinions before you make a significant, potentially life-altering, decision.