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What to look for when choosing a doctor

Finding a reliable doctor is one of the most important decisions a person can make, as they are very much placing their lives in the hands of the professional they choose. Whether one is looking for a general practitioner, plastic surgeon or oncologist, it is certainly not a decision that should be taken lightly and there are a number of important factors to consider before making a choice.

As is the case with a large number of other services, many people find a doctor based on word of mouth suggestions. After all, if they are good for one person, why wouldn't they be good for others as well? In fact, there are little other resources available to people looking for reviews on medical professionals and unless they are ready to do a little digging, word of mouth may be the only method they know. While it can certainly be a reliable way to find a doctor, a 2008 article in The New York Times advises people to go a bit further.

Before doing anything, prospective patients should figure out what their needs are. Of course, looking for a cardiologist will require following a much different checklist than looking for a allergist and the search should reflect that. Additionally, while most doctors have a general knowledge of healthcare, oftentimes a specialist is the better option than a general practitioner.

Once one determines what kind of doctor they are looking for,   it's time to conduct research into their credentials. Unlike some other professions such as contractors and lawyers, this can be a bit difficult. The Times suggests that patients check with their health plans to see if they have any information on individual doctors. In fact, most insurance companies are very helpful when it comes to finding a doctor and provide books or lists online that list which doctors are available for each particular plan.

In a similar vein, hospitals sometimes offer services that can match up doctors with patients in need of care. According to U.S. News and World Report, this is especially helpful for people looking for physicians since hospitals can point people in the direction of doctors who are accepting new patients. Furthermore, if one is having trouble finding a doctor with openings, experts say that medical schools are usually more apt to have spots open because they often use residents for routine tasks.

Additionally, people should check with their state medical board to see if the doctor has faced any disciplinary action in the past. This can also let patients find out if the doctors are board certified, which can help provide security that the doctor has undergone all of the appropriate training.

A great resource for people looking for a doctor is the American Board of Medical Specialties. This service offers many of the same advantages of checking with one's state medical board in one convenient location. Most importantly, it allows users to type in the name of the doctor they are searching for, add a specialty and see which tests they have passed.

Regardless of what kind of doctor one is looking for, prospective patients should be sure to ask a number of important questions. First and foremost, there are administrative details like whether or not they take one's particular insurance or what hospitals they are associated with. However, there are some other important questions that can go a long way in determining what your final decision will be.

Many of the questions on the checklist have to do with each doctor's particular qualifications. For instance, it's important to inquire about his or her background including how long they have been a doctor. Additionally, patients may want to ask about whether the doctor is affiliated with a particular hospital and about various odds and ends including the availability of same-day appointments and how long one would have to wait to schedule a consultation.

Before meeting with the doctor, it may be a good idea to look into what others are saying about them. As is the case with other professionals, people can look at the Better Business Bureau to see if anybody has ever lodged any complaints about the doctor, which can certainly weigh heavily on the decision making process.

According to the Chicago Tribune, there are certain signs that indicate a doctor is good at his or her job. For instance, patients should look into things like how scientifically up to date the doctor is, how receptive to questions they are and whether or not they return phone calls promptly. Things to be on the lookout for include a dismissive attitude, difficulty in being reached and availability during the weekend.

Regardless of which path one chooses, experts say that finding a good doctor boils down to how much effort and research they are willing to put in to their search. Making general assumptions about doctors based on previous experiences can be one of the biggest mistakes a patient can make.

"Do your research,” Dr. Samantha Collier, the chief medical officer for HealthGrades, told The New York Times. "Don’t assume all physicians are equally skilled. More importantly, they need to be a good match for you. I hear so many patients tell me they really don’t like their doctor or trust their doctor but they keep going back. That is ridiculous."

Collier's last point is especially important to note. Regardless of how skilled a doctor is, if they don't feel right and they don't offer a good relationship it may be a good idea to look into a different practitioner. Feeling comfortable with a doctor is the most important part of the relationship and if there is no rapport it can be difficult to get the best treatment possible.