Is Your Doctor Helping or Hurting? This Is How to Find Out

by Julie Rains on 23 June 2014 0 comments

Recently, I made the difficult decision to leave my primary care physician of nearly 20 years.

Finding a replacement seemed daunting. But some digital sleuthing and real-life conversations helped me with this process. At our first meeting, my newly vetted physician quickly resolved nagging problems, showing me that mutual understanding can happen even in young relationships. If you are ready for a change or have been forced by circumstances to find a new physician, here are ways to vet your doctor:

Physician Review Sites

Physician review sites offer a way for patients to rate services and provide commentary on their experiences. Reviews are often based on a layperson's opinion rather than quality of care. However, you can often detect physicians' patterns of behavior that affect diagnosis and effectiveness of treatment by perusing these sites.

1. Vitals

Locate potential physicians through searches by specialty or conditions treated, location, and insurance plans at Vitals. Find out the medical school she attended and the hospital affiliations she has, along with the ratings of those schools and hospitals.

Learn about professional certifications as well as awards; note that certain recognitions, such as the Patient's Choice Award, may indicate a physician's popularity rather than competence. In addition, find patient evaluations created by Vitals' users and pulled from third-party sites.

Vitals is particularly comprehensive. For example, you can read about a physician's research and publications in the credentials area. (In my case, I even noticed that one of the physicians I was vetting had done research in a field that my past physician had told me was too new for him.)

2. Angie's List

There are more than reviews of home-improvement professionals at Angie's List. Get detailed ratings and commentaries about health care providers through this paid subscription site. Physicians are rated on overall service as well as availability, office environment, punctuality, staff friendliness, bedside manner, communication, effectiveness of treatment, and billing administration.

When the regimen that my former physician recommended didn't address my son's foot problem, I consulted member reviews at Angie's List to find a podiatrist. One practice was repeatedly recommended. Both my son and I were pleased with the physician I found, and the treatment was effective.

3. RateMDs

Glance at the top 10 doctors among various specialties in your area at RateMDs. You can also search by specialty and location as well as browse doctors in all specialties within your state.

There are patient ratings of staff, punctuality, helpfulness, and knowledge, along with more detailed reviews.

A few features are unique:

  • "Birds of a feather" draws on the Medicare database to connect physicians based on their referrals, so if you like (or dislike) a physician, then you can choose (or rule out) her cross-referring colleagues;

  • Convenient links to the practicing physician's state medical board, where you can check for disciplinary actions; and

  • Streaming tweets linking to news reports on physicians' transgressions.

4. Healthgrades

Search for physicians by specialty, medical conditions treated, or procedure required and location at Healthgrades. When you've pinned down the ones you want to investigate, view insurances accepted, board certifications, education and training, background checks, and patient ratings.

Background checks consist of malpractice judgments, sanctions, and board actions; note that malpractice information is publicly available in 14 states only. Patient-satisfaction evaluations involve ratings of the office and staff, experiences with the provider, and the likelihood that patients will recommend the physician to family and friends. These ratings are compared to national averages.

5. DrScore.com

Get basic information on a physician (such as education and years of experience) along with ratings on clinical exams, timeliness, treatment, and staff at DrScore.com. This site also provides patient satisfaction reporting services to physicians; these surveys support medical-practice compliance with Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) quality programs.

Crowdsourcing

Those in your social circles and industry experts may be able to give you information about physicians that meet your specific criteria.

6. Friends (...in Medicine, If Possible)

When I started the process of locating a physician, I got recommendations from a friend who worked for a large medical group in my area. He provided me with a list of several candidates, both male and female. Because this person works in a professional position (and was not a senior executive who physicians may be more likely to try to impress), I believe he had a realistic view of various physicians' genuine character and communication style, which were key concerns for me.

7. Facebook

Crowdsource your new physician on Facebook by asking your friends for recommendations. You can also check out medical groups and physician practices with Facebook pages; look at patient ratings and see how responsive administrators are to patient concerns.

8. Castle Connolly — Top Doctors

Locate top doctors as selected by physicians at the Castle Connolly — Top Doctors website. Some information is available to casual users. But you must join as a premium member to get full access to search capabilities and results. Note that physicians may list their selection as a top doctor in their profiles on physician review sites.

Physician Directories

If you don't have friends in the know about doctors or if you want to vet only those physicians in your insurance network, use a physician directory (and call to confirm the information is current). Directories may also have patient reviews of physicians.

9. Insurance Company Websites

Find a physician in your insurance network by visiting the website of your insurance company, such as Aetna or United Health. Learn more about a prospective physician's board certifications; electronic capabilities, such as e-prescribing and email communications; and special training and recognition, such as designations for diabetes management or stroke care.

Check out quality-performance data indicating compliance with medical standards. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield lets you see how many patients of each physician received recommended tests in key areas, such as blood sugar testing or colorectal cancer screening. This information is provided in terms of patient numbers and percentages, and comparisons to area averages. Patient reviews of physicians are also available.

10. ZocDoc

Find a physician, read patient reviews, and book an appointment online at ZocDoc. You can also verify whether a provider is within your insurance network. Register with the site for free access to booking services.

There are limited listings here, although there are indications that more are to be added in various categories. For example, a search for primary care doctors returned just a handful of hopefuls in an area that has hundreds of practicing physicians. Categories "coming soon" include dermatologists, midwives, and orthopedic surgeons.

11. WebMD

Get basic information about physicians from WebMD's directory of doctors. Look at practice specialties, years of experience, hospital affiliations, locations, and insurances accepted.

Professional Resources

Before setting up an appointment with a new physician, check out credentials from industry resources.

12. State Medical Boards

Learn about your physician by verifying credentials at your state's medical board, which you can find on the American Medical Association website. Check for board actions such as practice surrenders, suspensions, and revocations.

13. American Board of Medical Specialties

Verify that your physician is board certified in the specialty in which she practices at the American Board of Medical Specialties Certification Matters website. You'll have to register before you can check for certification, but the site is free to use.

General Review Sites

After you've developed a short list of candidates, do a general search on each potential physician. You will likely land on general review sites that may reveal more insights.

14. Google+ Local Reviews

Medical practices and physicians are occasionally reviewed on Google+. These may appear in local pages on Google+, Google search results, and Google Maps. Reviews here don't follow a standard format; reviewers simply speak their minds on issues that are important to them.

15. Yelp

Just as patrons review restaurants, patients review their physicians on Yelp. Again, there is not a standard format specific to health care practices. However, you can learn about topics relevant to reviewers in regard to medical care and their experiences with various physicians.

Visit multiple sites to get a broad understanding of a physician's background, capabilities, and strengths. Supplement web-based investigations by talking with friends, including those who work in the medical field and can give you an insider's point of view. Finally, decide on your health care priorities and speak directly to your potential physician to make sure your needs will be met.

How did you find and select your current doctor? Please share in comments!

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