How to Pick the Right Doctor

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Carol Dawson Fehringer, MTC on February 4, 2022

Choosing the right doctor is one of the most important decisions you can make, and it can make a difference in the level of quality medical care you receive. Follow these tips to help make the right decision for you.

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    1. Ask Around
    Start by creating a list of potential doctors. Ask your family, friends, and other healthcare providers for recommendations. If you have a medical condition that requires specialty care, ask your primary care doctor to refer you to specialists who can work closely with your primary care doctor to coordinate your care. Whether you’re starting out without any referrals or just looking for more options, Healthgrades can help you find the right doctor by allowing you to search by specialty of even sub-specialty.
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    2. Demand Expertise
    Take time to research the doctors’ credentials and expertise. Look for a doctor who is board certified in the medical specialty that treats your condition. Board certifications indicate that the doctor has the necessary training, skills and experience to provide healthcare in their specialty.

    As you consider a doctor's credentials, it's also important to confirm that he or she has no history of malpractice claims or disciplinary actions. In addition to other important information about a doctor's background, Healthgrades physician profiles list board certifications and will indicate a report of any incidents of malpractice or disciplinary actions.
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    3. Know Your Degrees: MD & DO
    Remember there are two types of fully qualified doctors: medical doctors (MDs) and osteopathic doctors (DOs). MDs practice traditional medicine focusing on treating symptoms, disease or injury with therapy, medications or surgery. In medical school, DOs supplement the traditional medical school curriculum by learning osteopathic manipulative medicine, which is a hands-on method of diagnosis, emphasizing self-healing and wellness.

    Both MDs and DOs prescribe medication and perform surgery. The line between traditional medicine practiced by MDs and osteopathic medicine practiced by DOs is becoming less distinct and is mainly philosophical.
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    4. Look for Experience
    Experience matters when you're facing health issues. The more experience a doctor has with treating a condition or performing a procedure, the better your results are likely to be. Healthgrades physician profiles enable you to view a doctor's treatment frequency for your condition or procedure compared to their peers so you can pick a doctor with the experience you need.

    Ask how many patients with your specific condition the doctor has treated. If you know you need a specific procedure, ask how many of the procedures the doctor has performed and find out about complication rates —complications the doctor has encountered as well as your own risk of complications.
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    5. Get Personal
    It is important for you to feel comfortable with your doctor’s gender because you will need to openly discuss personal information. The age of your doctor is also something worth considering. Healthgrades allows you to filter your search results by gender and age so you can find a doctor with whom you're comfortable. Don't hesitate to ask a doctor about their recent training and experience specifically related to your condition and your gender.

    Because gender matters in some types of care, doctors are becoming more specialized in caring for women and men differently. Some hospitals even have specialized treatment centers that focus on gender-specific care, which is why it's also important to consider where your doctor practices.
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    6. Examine the Hospital
    Doctors have admitting privileges—permission to treat patients—at certain hospitals. This mean you can’t choose a doctor and expect to be treated at any hospital you want. Even if you're young and healthy, it's important to research the hospitals at which your doctor you can treat you if you become ill. Picking a highly rated doctor who is only affiliated with a low-rated hospital might not be the best choice.

    If a doctor’s hospital falls short in quality, you should determine if that doctor has privileges elsewhere or find a doctor who treats patients at a hospital likely to offer you the best possible outcome. Healthgrades can help you find the top hospitals near you and their respective ratings by specialty.
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    7. Listen to Other Patients
    Reading what other people have to say about a doctor can provide insight into how a doctor practices medicine, as well as how his or her medical practice is operated. Healthgrades physician profiles allow you to read patient reviews and ratings based on factors that typically reflect people's experience, such as scheduling appointments, wait times and office environment, and office friendliness.

    You can learn about how well patients trust the doctor, how much time they spend with their patients, and how well they answer questions.
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    8. Consider Location and Office Hours
    If your medical care requires frequent trips to the doctor, you might be thinking about a doctor that is conveniently located for you and family members. As a matter of convenience, make sure the doctor will be able to see you when you are available to come to the office.

    If you know your treatment will involve routine follow-up visits and check-ins, you can use Healthgrades to find a doctor who offers telehealth appointments.
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    9. Pick Your Provider Before Your Plan
    Your insurance coverage is a practical matter. When you’re in a situation to select a health insurance plan, it’s helpful to understand that doctors only see patients with certain insurance plans. You’ll want to find the best doctor who fits your specific medical and health insurance needs before you enroll in a plan.

    It’s important to remember that some plans give you more provider choices than others. To receive the most insurance benefits and pay the least out-of-pocket for your care, you may need to choose a doctor who participates in your plan. You should still consider credentials, experience, outcomes, and affiliated hospital quality as you select a doctor from your plan.

    As you weigh your options, you can use Healthgrades physician profiles to see which doctors are in and out of your network. Once you’re ready to make an appointment, call the doctor’s office to confirm their coverage so you’re aware of the costs upfront.
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    10. Interview Your Doctor
    As you narrow down your list, call each doctor’s office and ask for a consult appointment to meet and interview the doctor. Confirm that you won't be charged for this initial visit to meet the doctor and do a little research to prepare for your consultation.

    Healthgrades appointment guides can help you pinpoint what questions to ask your specialist and to anticipate what questions your specialist will ask you. As you reflect on your first appointment, ask yourself if you are comfortable with the doctor’s bedside manner. Do they respect your opinions and answer your questions in a way you understand?

    The right doctor is someone with whom you are comfortable talking, whose approach to medicine feels right to you, and who supports your information needs.
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    11. Ask Yourself
    Now that you know what to look for when choosing a doctor, ask yourself which factors are most important to you. You may need to find a balance between these 10 factors. Your goal is finding the best doctor who most closely meets your needs. You want to get the best care from someone you can trust and who puts you at ease.
How to Pick the Right Doctor
Carol Dawson Fehringer is managing editor for Healthgrades, where she establishes editorial guidelines, designs content formats, and writes and edits on a broad range of health topics and hospital quality insights. Carol has a master’s in technical communication from the University of Colorado and previously worked in space engineering, water engineering, technical marketing, and digital media marketing.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2015 May 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.