How to Search for a Doctor

Finding the Right Doctor or Healthcare Provider

Good health is your greatest asset. You want a provider who provides high-quality, compassionate care. You also want someone who can communicate effectively and is eager to  partner with you in decisions about your healthcare. This is not, and should not be, a snap decision. It can be hard work, but it is worth the effort.

What Type of Doctor Do You Need?

The first question to consider is whether you need a primary care or specialty care physician.

A primary care physician is a doctor who can diagnose and treat a wide range of common illnesses and conditions. Primary care doctors also provide:

  • Patient education.
  • Advice on preventing disease.
  • Care coordination if you need a specialist.

Primary care doctors may also hold certifications. This means they learned special skills in different areas, such as family medicine or internal medicine. 

Learn more about primary care physicians.

A specialty care doctor, also called specialists, has advanced training in a certain area of medicine. This could be a particular disease, condition or procedure. Common types of specialists include:

  • Allergists.
  • Cardiologists.
  • Surgeons.

Learn more about specialty care physicians.

Best Practices

To be safe, it is a smart tactic to find out whether your doctor is in good standing with state agencies that grant medical licenses to physicians. DocFinder reports whether doctors face any disciplinary action or criminal charges. The information stems from individual state medical and osteopathic boards. You can also go directly to these sources for more information on physicians in your area.

After determining if the doctor you choose is right for your condition, is covered by your health plan and is in good standing with state agencies, you still need to make sure your choice is the best one.

Next you should find out if your physician:

  • Clearly answers questions about your condition and treatment plan. If there isn't enough time to answer your questions during the appointment, find out if the office will contact you later. Or ask whether there is a good time to call with any follow-up questions. To get the most from your medical appointment, use the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ's) Question Builder tool.
  • Uses a hospital whose location and quality you feel comfortable with, in the event you need care at a facility. Learn more about the quality of care at many hospitals from the federal government's Hospital Compare website.
  • Performs routine X-rays and lab services in the office. If not, you may need to travel to a different location for services.
  • Handles insurance claims at the office. If not, you may have to pay for services upfront and file the claims on your own.

By putting more effort into finding the right doctor for you, it can pay rewards for a lifetime.

The above content adapted from an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) article.