Are you picking a doctor for the first time? Have you changed jobs or moved?
Has your long-established doctor recently retired? Whatever your situation,
choosing a primary care physician (PCP) or specialist can be a difficult
decision, especially with so many doctors out there. But it’s important
to find someone you can trust to guide you in making the best decisions
for your health.
A good way to start is to visit the
Find a Physician section of our website. Once there, you can look up doctors by name, specialty
or condition. You’ll also find doctor profiles, which contain information
about their education and training, experience, board certifications and
For other key steps to follow when choosing a doctor for yourself or a
family member, read the following excerpt from
Insider’s Guide to Quality, Affordable Healthcare — a book and
accompanying website aimed at helping readers become knowledgeable and active health care consumers.
Finding a Health Care Partner You Can Trust
When choosing a doctor, it’s important to find someone who will be
a valued partner in your care. You’ll want someone you can trust
and communicate comfortably with to help you stay healthy or recover from
an illness or injury.
The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) has helpful guidance on
selecting and working with a doctor of your choice. They form the basis
of the following three approaches.
1. Decide what qualities and services matter most to you.
These may include having a doctor or surgeon who:
- Is well trained and experienced in the specialty in which you need care.
- Provides clear explanations of conditions and treatments, and welcomes
- Uses technology to improve care and communication.
- Has a convenient office location and office hours.
- Is part of your health care plan.
2. Compile a list of potential choices.
Ask your current health professionals, family members, co-workers and friends
Reputable websites to research for your list include:
The ABMS website to confirm board certification.
The American Medical Association’s “DoctorFinder”
 lets you search for doctors by medical specialty or name.
 lets you search for doctors (both generalists and specialists), dentists
and hospitals. This is a well recommended and rather unique “directory
of directories” to find links to reputable health care search engines.
Medicare’s “Physician Compare”
 lets you search for providers in a zip code location by specialty (for
example, cardiology) or medical condition (for example, diabetes mellitus)
or an organ/organ system (for example, the heart).
Also, request a list of doctors from your health insurance provider.
3. Make a List of Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Here are some important questions to ask if you’re interviewing a
doctor or seeing a new doctor for the first time. Please note that there
may not be enough time to pose all these questions, and it is best to
prioritize the ones that are most important to you.
- Which hospitals do you use? Are they accredited?
- What are your office hours?
- Who covers for you when you are unavailable?
- How long does it usually take to get a routine appointment?
- How long is the typical office wait?
- Will I have to pay if I cancel an appointment?
- Does the office send reminders about prevention tests?
- What do I do if I need urgent care or have an emergency?
- Do you or someone in your office speak the language that I am most comfortable using?
- Do you (or a nurse or physician’s assistant) give advice over the
phone for common medical problems?
- Do you use electronic medical records?
In addition to these general questions, you may wish to ask questions tailored
to doctors in a particular specialty or subspecialty. For example, if
you are considering a surgical procedure, you may want to ask how frequently
the doctor performs the procedure, what the potential risks are and what
the recovery involves.
Look for more insights from Insider’s Guide to Quality, Affordable Healthcare. For information about this book, visit qualityaffordablehealthcare.net
About the Authors
Lawrence W. Lazarus, MD, has specialized in geriatric medicine and psychiatry
at Rush Medical School and University in Chicago, Illinois, where he founded
the Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship Program. He is a former president
of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry and was awarded numerous
teaching and research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Dr. Lazarus is in private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Jeffrey Foster, MD, has spent his clinical and academic career with Geriatric
Psychiatry as a prominent focus. He has worked closely with primary care
physicians, nurses, social workers and various specialists in hospital
and outpatient settings. A former President of the American Association
of Geriatric Psychiatry, Dr. Foster has received various teaching and
research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.
 See https://apps.ama-assn.org/doctorfinder/recaptcha.jsp
 See https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/directories.html sponsored by
the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. National Library
 See www.medicare.gov/physiciancompare/search.html