How do I find and choose the right doctor for me?

September 19, 2011

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

When I was a resident physician, I got pretty sick one day. I had a high fever and shaking chills. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. There I was, in this huge teaching hospital in Chicago, going down the list of doctors I could see. It actually took me quite a while to find someone I would want to be my doctor. Even for a physician, finding a doctor just right for you isn't as simple as you might think.

People's needs tend to fall into two categories: the doctor's professional skill set and bedside manner. 

Whether you are on the hunt for a primary physician or a specialist, finding the right doctor first requires understanding and prioritizing your needs. These needs tend to fall into two categories: the doctor's professional skill set and, just as importantly, the doctor's bedside manner.

Establishing skill set isn't always straightforward. One of the more obvious ways is to determine where the doctor went to med school. Pretty much any US school is going to be good. If the doctor you are researching went to school overseas (25 percent of practicing doctors trained outside the US) , you can check lists that rank countries by quality of medical schools. Next up is to learn whether the physician is board-certified, which indicates that he or she has passed certain important tests, and has done so relatively recently. Another trick is to ask people in a position to know. Other doctors or nurses who work with different doctors tend to be the best resource for learning which doctors are best.

A doctor's personality, on the other hand, can take longer to flesh out. If you are interested in whether, for instance, the doctor speaks a certain language, this can be easy to learn. But if you are looking for a certain bedside manner with qualities that are harder to articulate, it might require a face-to-face appointment. Keep in mind that most doctors don't have time in their schedules to give free interviews, so you'll likely have to pay for this visit.

Still stuck? Consider turning to a patient advocate for help. They can do the research based on your particular needs and specifications. As for doctor rating systems, they may be of value, but must be interpreted with care. If only one user has given that physician five stars, you can probably guess who submitted that rating.

Originally published Sep 19, 2011 7:31:04 PM.