How to Check-Up on Your Doctors

by | December 31, 2008 12:00 am

Dear Savvy Senior,

What resources are available that can help me research some doctors in my area? I’m looking for a new primary care doctor for my mother and an orthopedic doctor for me, but I could use some help.

Hunting for Doc’s

Dear Hunting

Over the years, most people looking for a new doctor have turned to friends, family members, coworkers or doctors they already know for a recommendation. Or many simply pick a physician from their health plan who happens to be nearby, and hope for the best. But today, a growing number of resources are available that can help patients find the best medical care possible. Here’s what you should know.

Finding Dr. Right

The Internet has become the single greatest source for locating and evaluating physicians. Whether you’re researching a new doctor or looking to learn more about your current doctor(s) there’s a number of online resources that provide basic data on just about every licensed doctor in the U.S. Here are some good ones to help you get started:

•Vitals.com: A free Web resource (www.vitals.com) that will help you locate, evaluate and choose a doctor based on their training, expertise, consumer ratings and recommendations from other doctors. You can also rate doctors and leave comments for others to see. Other sites to check that offer similar services include www.ratemds.com, www.findadoc.com, www.careseek.com, www.thehealthcarescoop.com and www.drscore.com.

•American Medical Association: Offers a DoctorFinder service (http://webapps.ama-assn.org/doctorfinder) that provides free information on virtually every licensed physician in the U.S., including their educational history, medical specialties and hospital admitting privileges.

Doctor’s Check-Up

After you find a few doctors you’re interested in, here are some additional sources that can help you dig a little deeper. To check into your doctor’s board certification status, for example, visit the American Board of Medical Specialties www.abms.org or call 866-275-2267. And to learn about any disciplinary actions taken against doctors, your state medical licensing board is your best resource. The Federation of State Medical Boards Web site has direct links to every state board at www.fsmb.org/directory_smb.html where you can search for free. Or you can go to www.docinfo.org and request a physician profile (for $10) that includes license and disciplinary status.

If you’re looking for more information, there are several fee-based services that can help including Health Grades (www.healthgrades.com), which provides reports ($29.95 each) that cover education and training, board certification, professional misconduct or disciplinary action, and satisfaction scores from patients. Consumers’ Checkbook (www.checkbook.org) is another neat service that can help you search for top-rated doctors that have actually been recommended by other doctors. Their database lists 20,000 physicians, in 30 different fields of specialty, in 50 metro areas. They charge $24.95 for a two-year subscription.

What to Know

Once you have found a few names of doctors you might want to try, here are some additional things you need to find out, which you can easily do by calling their office:

•Are they accepting new patients?

•Do they accept your specific health insurance plan? You can also find this out by visiting your health plan’s Web site. To search for doctors that accept Medicare go to www.medicare.gov/physician, or call 800-633-4227.

•Where is their clinic or office located? Is it easy for you to get to

•What are the office hours?

•How long does it take to get an appointment?

•Does the doctor have a relationship with the hospital you prefer?

•Is the doctor available after hours or on weekends?

•Does the doctor (or a nurse or physician assistant) give advice over the phone or via e-mail for common medical problems?

•If the doctor is of foreign decent does he/she speak clear, understandable English?

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