Studies show that people looking for a new doctor usually ask a friend or family member for a recommendation before using other sources of information. But while a friend or relative’s experience with a doctor can be helpful, neither person is likely to know the background information that is necessary to make a really informed choice. In the not-too-distant past, it was next to impossible for the average patient to find information about a doctor’s professional credentials. Today, there are a variety of ways to easily find these facts.
Use the Internet. The Internet has become the single greatest source for researching physicians, but many people don’t know where to start. There are several Web sites — many of them available at no charge — that give basic data on just about every licensed doctor. For example, I recommend www.findadoc.com, created by doctors and computer programmers, because it allows you to quickly look up a doctor and find out where he/she trained, whether he is board certified and the typical time spent in the waiting room. Another Web site, www.healthgrades.com, is similar but provides even more information on a doctor, including any malpractice judgments or disciplinary actions taken by a state licensing board. However, a report on a doctor costs $29.95. And you can get most of the same information — at no cost — by using the sources listed below…
To learn about board certification, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), which represents the medical boards with the strictest physician specialty requirements, hosts an excellent Web site at www.abms.org. It offers free verification of a doctor’s board-certification status. Or you can call the ABMS at 866-275-2267.
To learn about disciplinary actions taken against doctors, state medical licensing boards are usually the best resource. The American Medical Association’s Web site has direct links to every state board at www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/2645.html. You also can call your local or county court and ask the clerk of the court about any medical malpractice cases that have been filed against a local doctor. Most non-court sources of information about malpractice, such as state licensing boards or physician-rating Web sites, include only judgments — not settlements or cases filed.
Ask a nurse. Nurses are wonderful — but underutilized — sources of information and insight about local doctors. If you know a nurse, ask for input on your doctor or one you’re considering using.
Interview before choosing. When selecting a new primary care doctor or specialist, set up an interview appointment. Ask about anything that your research has uncovered or any other points you would like to know about a doctor’s background or experience. Most insurance plans will cover the cost of this visit.