Choosing a Doctor
You may need to find a new doctor because you’ve moved, changed insurance plans, didn’t like your previous doctor, or your doctor has retired. This guide is designed to help you to find a new physician.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Does the gender, age, race, language, or religion of a doctor make a difference to you?
A primary care physician is your main doctor. What kind of primary physician are you looking for?
- Family Practitioners treat children and adults of all ages.
- Pediatricians treat children and adolescents
- Internists treat adults of all ages.
- Gynecologists treat women and sometimes serve as primary care physicians
If you have a chronic condition, do you need a primary care physician who has experience in your particular health problem or one who is willing to refer you to the specialist you want? (Some insurance plans require a referral from a primary care physician before you can see a specialist.) Or are you looking for a specialist?
If you have health insurance, be aware of what restrictions your insurance may place on you. Many insurance plans limit the doctors you can choose from or allow you to choose your doctor from a specific list.
Are you likely to be changing jobs? If you are likely to be changing jobs you may be forced to change insurance carriers.
Do you want the doctor’s office to be located in a particular area?
Making Your List
Start by asking family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers for the names of doctors they recommend. Why do they recommend these doctors? Ask your dentist, pharmacist, previous doctor, or optometrist for their recommendations. If you know any people who work in the medical field, (for example: nurses, physician’s assistants, social workers, medical technicians) ask who they respect and why, and who they would recommend.
If your insurance plan limits your choice of doctors, check the plan’s list of doctors.
Other Resources for Locating Doctors
American Academy of Pediatrics' Pediatrician Referral Service
You can search by zip code, area code, state, or specialty for members of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The results include an address (home or office) along with a phone number and medical school graduation date.
America’s Top Doctors, 6th ed. New York: Castle Connolly Medical, Ltd, 2006. XR712.A1A44 2006
This book is more useful for identifying specialists than primary care physicians. It identifies top specialists for rare, complex, or difficult medical conditions. Arranged by specialty or subspecialty, then geographically by region of the U.S., there is also an index for specific diagnoses.
Baltimore Magazine's Top Doctors
Baltimore Magazine’s 2007 list of 554 Baltimore area physicians whom other doctors consider the best in different specialties.
Find a Family Doctor
Searching this Web site results in only a list of names of American Academy of Family Physicians members. It does not provide any addresses, phone numbers, or other information. You can search by zip code or state combined with city.
Maryland Hospital Association Directory
You can use this page to find Maryland hospital Web sites. Many hospitals offer find-a-doctor referral services. These hospital referral services only provide referrals to their own doctors.
MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society
This is the searchable membership directory of MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society. You can search by specialty and zip code or city.
Medicare Participating Physician Directory
This directory contains the names, addresses, phone numbers, and specialties of physicians who participate in Medicare.
ReferenceUSA: Health Care Database
Health Care Database, a ReferenceUSA product, is a directory database of 650,000 U.S. physicians. Search by name, location, primary specialty or combinations. This database is available for use in any Pratt Library, or remotely with an Enoch Pratt library card, from the database section of the Pratt Library’s Web page.
Washingtonian’s Top Doctors. Washingtonian Magazine , July, 2005. The article starts on page 70. This is located in the Periodicals Department.
Washingtonian sent questionnaires to D.C. area physicians asking them which doctors they would recommend for family members in 34 specialties. The list is arranged by specialty category. This is also available online to subscribers of Washingtonian.
WebMD Physician Directory
Searchable by zip code, state, and specialty, this Web site provides contact information for 400,000 clinically active doctors in the United States. You can limit your search to doctors that accept a specific type of insurance.
Verifying Your Doctor’s Credentials
Once you have a list of potential doctors, you will want to check on their credentials, including their education and board certification.
According to the 4th edition of America’s Top Doctors (page 13),“You can be confident that doctors who are board certified have, at a minimum, the proper training in their specialty and have demonstrated their proficiency through supervision and testing. While there are many non-board certified doctors who are highly competent, it is more difficult to assess the level of their training.”
The following resources will help you locate information about doctors’ education, licenses, and board certification:
Find a doctor by name and state or zip code, or specialty and state or zip code. The entries for members of American Medical Association include contact information, gender, medical school attended, residency training, and specialty certification. Some member’s entries include photos, office hours, and practice philosophy. Non-member entries are extremely brief. The non-member entries usually include city and zip, office phone number and their specialty certification. The annual Directory of Physicians in the United States (XR712.A13A6) published by the American Medical Association has an alphabetical index by name. The information provided for each doctor includes an address, medical school attended and year of graduation, and specialty certification.
DocFinder, from the Association of State Medical Board Executive Directors, provides licensing data on physicians provided by some state boards of medicine. There is a search feature allowing multiple state searching.
Maryland Board of Physicians Practitioner Profile System
This Web site provides educational and certification information on licensed Maryland doctors. It also contains limited information about disciplinary actions by medical boards as well as malpractice judgments and settlements.
Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists. 4 vols. St. Louis: Saunders. (Annual). XR712.A1034Q
A directory of physicians certified by one of the twenty-four boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties. For each individual, the biographical information given includes date of birth, name of their medical school and date of graduation, training, specialty certification date, hospital privileges, and an address. There is an alphabetical index by name. The American Board of Medical Specialties allows you to confirm the board certification of individual physicians at Who's Certified. Free registration is required but no biographical information is provided. You can also confirm board certification by calling 1-866-ASK-ABMS.
Questions to Ask the Doctors’ Offices
Next, you may want to call the doctors’ offices and ask some questions:
Is the doctor accepting new patients?
Does the doctor accept Medicare patients? Is the doctor accepting new Medicare patients?
Does this doctor accept your insurance?
Is the office handicapped accessible?
Where do I park? Is the office close to public transportation?
What are the doctor’s office hours for appointments?
How long is the usual wait time to get a routine appointment?
How long is the average wait once I am there for my appointment?
How does your office handle urgent care appointments and requests for same day appointments?
What if I need help after regular office hours?
How is coverage provided when the doctor is on vacation?
Can I get advice over the phone?
Where do I have to go to have lab work or x-rays done? Is it done in the office or do I have to go off site? If I have to go off site, where do I have to go? (This may depend on your insurance.)
Will you file insurance claims for me?
Visiting the Doctor
Hopefully, at this point, your list of potential doctors is short enough that you can think about scheduling appointments with your top finalists.
Call the doctor’s office and ask to make an appointment to interview the doctor (or call it a get acquainted visit or an appointment to discuss philosophy of care). Ask if there will be a charge. Don’t be surprised if there is a charge. You may have to pay for these appointments yourself; your insurance may not cover these visits.
Possible Discussion Topics
Do you think you are disease-focused or wellness-focused?
How much experience do you have dealing with ________ disease or problem?
Do you generally take a conservative or aggressive approach to treatment?
Do you refer patients to specialists frequently or infrequently?
What do you like best and least about practicing medicine?
What do you expect from your patients?
What specialists are you able to refer me to? Are you restricted in any way from referring me to a specialist I want to see?
Do you get paid a bonus based on performance measures?
After the Appointment
Did you like the doctor’s communication style? Some people want their doctors to be friendly and outgoing, and others want them to be more formal.
Did the doctor treat you with respect? Willing to listen to your questions? Willing to answer your questions? Communication plays a very important role in your relationship with your doctor.
Think back about your interaction with the office staff. You will have to deal with them often. The office staff could potentially act as a barrier to you gaining access to the doctor. Did they appear friendly and organized?
If you are lucky, you may end up with more than one good candidate.
Once you have decided on a doctor, always remember, your decision is not final. You hired the doctor and you can fire the doctor. You can always try some of your other top finalists, or start to look for a new physician.
This guide should help you with many resources you will need for finding a doctor. If you are interested in more help or have questions, please e-mail us through our Ask-A-Librarian service, call (410) 396-5317, or you can write to us at:
Business, Science, and Technology Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
Central Library/State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201