I wish there were an easy way to go about finding a new physician, but the truth is, you’ll have to do some homework if you’re starting from scratch. If you already have a primary care doctor, he or she can always refer you to specialists if you need, say, a cardiologist or a dermatologist. But we don’t have any data that rates physicians in the same way that we rate hospitals. And while information is available to hospitals on physicians who have been fired from other hospitals, patients have no access to that database. Reportedly, Medicare is putting together information on physician quality, but at this writing in 2014, it isn’t available to the public.
The first providers you should consider are doctors available to you under your health plan. You may want a physician whose office is near your home or work, but you should also take into consideration a doctor’s hospital affiliations. (It’s easier to determine the top hospitals in your area than the best doctors.)
In general, it is best to go about your search for a new doctor and establish a relationship when you have no urgent need for care, so that if and when you do feel sick, you’ll be able to get an appointment. You can check with your state medical board to verify that the doctors on your list have valid medical licenses and whether or not they have faced disciplinary proceedings. You also should determine whether or not a doctor is board certified to practice internal medicine, family medicine or any other medical specialty such as neurology or endocrinology. You can do this via the American Board of Medical Specialties (www.abms.org). In some cases, specialists must be recertified every six or eight years to make sure they’re up to speed on the latest in the field.
It also may be worth checking HealthGrades.com, a website that gives you information on doctors’ credentials. Another option: check to see if any local magazines publish an annual list of your area’s “top doctors.” Publications typically survey physicians themselves to determine which ones are considered “top.”
None of the research you do while trying to find a new doctor will tell you whether or not you’re a good match. You should feel comfortable with your new doctor, not rushed or left with the feeling that he or she is uncaring.
While we’re on the subject, here’s where you can find physicians who have graduated from the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. They’re listed by medical specialty and by location in the United States and abroad.
Andrew Weil, M.D.