Dear Savvy Senior,
What resources can you recommend to help me find and research some doctors in my area? I'm looking for a good primary care doctor or internist for my elderly parents, and need to locate a good orthopedic doctor for me.
--Shopping for Doctors
Thanks to the Internet, finding and researching doctors is a lot easier than it use to be. Today, there's a wide variety of websites you can turn to that provide databases of U.S. doctors, their professional medical histories, and ratings and reviews from past patients on a number of criteria. Here are some of the best sites available, along with a few additional tips that can help you find the right doctors.
To help you locate some doctors in your area, a good first step, and one that doesn't require a computer, is to ask for a referral. Contact some other doctors, nurses, or health care professionals that you know, for some names of doctors or practices that they like and trust.
You should also call your insurance provider, or visit their website directory to get a list of potential candidates. If you or your parents are Medicare beneficiaries, you can use the Physician Compare tool at medicare.gov/physiciancompare. This will let you find doctors by name, medical specialty or by geographic location that accept original Medicare. You can also get this information by calling Medicare at 800-633-4227.
Once you find a few doctors, you need to call their office to verify that they still accept your insurance, and if they are accepting new patients.
After you find a few doctors you're interested in, there are lots of online resources you can turn to, to help you check up on them.
For example, you can find out if a doctor is board certified at the American Board of Medical Specialties or call 866-275-2267. And to learn about malpractice claims and disciplinary actions taken against doctors, you can use your state medical board to search your state.
Here are some other good websites that can help you find and/or research doctors in your area for free.
Healthgrades.com: This comprehensive easy-to-use site provides doctor's information on education and training, hospital affiliations, board certification, awards and recognitions, professional misconduct, disciplinary action and malpractice records, office locations and insurance plans. It also offers a 5-star ratings scale from past patients on a number of issues like communication and listening skills, wait time, time spent with the patient, office friendliness and more.
Vitals.com: Provides background information on doctor's awards, expertise, hospital affiliations, and insurance as well as patient ratings on measures such as bedside manner, follow-up, promptness, accuracy of diagnosis, and average wait time. There's also a patient comment section.
RateMDs.com: Provides information on training as well as patient ratings on staff, punctuality, helpfulness and knowledge. Patients can also post questions and answers about doctors, and get doctor's ratings based on patient reviews.
Look Up Tool: If you want to find out how many times a doctor did a particular service and what they charge for it, use the CMS/HHS Medicare Physician and Other Supplier Look-up Tool.
AngiesList.com: If you don't mind spending a little money ($20/per year), Angie's List is a membership service that provides doctor reviews using an A through F scale.
When reaching a doctor, it's wise to check out several of these sites so you can get a bigger sampling and a better feel of how previous patients are rating a particular doctor.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.