How to Choose a Doctor

People often don’t think about looking for a doctor until they find themselves in need of specialized medical care or surgery. When patients don’t take the time to research their options they can end up with a doctor they don’t like, or worse, one whose medical care is subpar and possibly even dangerous. The medical malpractice attorneys at Hollingsworth Kelly Law Firm understand the importance of finding a quality doctor and have some suggestions to guide your search.

Where to start

There are a variety of ways to find a doctor. Insurance companies have lists of doctors with which they contract, but those lists rarely provide much information beyond a doctor’s name, gender and location of their office. Those shopping for a specialist might turn to advocacy groups related to their specific condition. However, for more personalized recommendations, a good place to start is with the people you know. Friends, family members and co-workers are great resources for recommendations because they’re familiar with your personality and specific needs.

Here are some things to consider when asking for a recommendation:

  • Communication style and method of delivery – Does the doctor favor email or phone?
  • Personality – Is he/she likable and easy to interact with?
  • Location – Is the office close to your work or home?
  • Availability – How long does it take to get an appointment and are the wait times reasonable?
  • Appointment length – How long does the doctor spend with his patients?
  • Hours of operation – Is the office open when you need to go?
  • Demographic – Do you prefer a doctor who is similar to you with regard to age, gender or ethnicity?
  • Experience – How long has the doctor been in practice?
  • Type of practice or specialty – Are they skilled in treating your specific condition/s?
  • Insurance compatibility – Do they accept your insurance policy?

Once you have established that a doctor is able to meet your personal preferences, the next step is to check their professional credentials. Are they board-certified? Accredited? Where did they attend school? What is their specialty? Do they have any medical malpractice claims against them?

Even if you were referred by another doctor, it is important to investigate. The referring doctor may not know the other doctor personally or may not have maintained contact. In the months or even years that may have lapsed since their last contact, a medical malpractice claim may have been filed against the referred doctor.

Remember, doctors are not immune to critical or life-changing events such as divorce, death of a loved one, or serious illness. These events may cause depression or lead to substance abuse and the effects of these issues may surface in your search. Avoid those who have exhibited this behavior or you could become the victim of medical malpractice.

Also consider checking online reviews when shopping for a doctor. Sites like Vitals and Healthgrades can give you an idea of a doctor’s bedside manner, wait times, how much time they spend with patients and whether they follow up with patients after appointments.

Online reviews can be a useful tool, but don’t rely on them alone. Keep in mind that people often are compelled to write reviews only when they are especially pleased or very unhappy.

How to check licenses and certifications

The internet has many resources available to prospective patients. The Arizona Medical Board website is an ideal place to begin your investigation.  The Licensee Search provides public information about a doctor’s standing with the organization. Look for actions filed against the doctor, such as a reprimand for unprofessional conduct or medical license revocation. This search also provides information about physicians’ education and training, as well as their area of interest.

Patients also should verify specialty certifications. This can be done through the American Board of Medical Specialties website. Most doctors have a specialty – pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, cardiology, orthopedics – and it’s important to make sure they are certified for the area in which they are practicing. They may also have a subspecialty, for instance, a dermatologist whose subspecialty is skin cancer. If you are searching for a specialist for the treatment of a specific condition, it can be worthwhile to choose a doctor whose subspecialty is specific to your diagnosis.

Your health is on the line

Ideally, prospective patients should meet with new doctors prior to seeking medical treatment. If that option is not available, use your first appointment to ask questions and judge your level of comfort with the doctor. This is a chance to evaluate the doctor in-person and get a feel for whether they are compatible.

The doctor-patient relationship should be a lasting one, requiring trust and effective communication. Patients should feel comfortable interacting with their doctors and be confident that their doctor has the skills and experience to provide them with the best treatment. If you do not, or if you get a bad feeling about a doctor after meeting with him or her, continue searching until you are satisfied. Trust your instincts – they’re usually right.

This information is provided as a public service by Hollingsworth Kelly and is not intended to serve as legal advice.