Choosing your doctor is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.
That’s why it’s so surprising that many of us put so little thought into it. We might go with someone recommended by friends. Or maybe we choose the practice that is closest to home or work. Or we might pick a doctor who gets good online reviews.
There are better ways.
In this issue of Health Watch, we’ll give you a coherent strategy that takes the guesswork out finding a quality practitioner. You’ll learn what to look for in doctor…and what to avoid.
5 Steps to Finding a Great Doctor
1.) Use informed word of mouth: “Word of mouth” has long been touted as the best way to find a doctor. But this is true only if you know the right people to ask.
Instead of asking everybody you know (including your Facebook friends) if they like their doctor, take a more targeted approach.
Focus on friends who have a health situation similar to yours. For example, if you are a diabetic, consult friends with diabetes. Ask friends who are the same sex and close in age to you.
If you know any healthcare professionals, ask them who their doctors are. The opinion of hospital nurses can be especially valuable. They interact with a large number of doctors at many different practices.
2.) Ignore “Top Doctor” awards: You may have seen ads from doctors who say they’ve been named a “Top Doctor” by some organization. These awards are often a scam. Doctors pay for them.
Here’s how they work: A for-profit company sends a doctor a flattering letter saying they’ve been named one of the “top” or “best” doctors in the city they practice. The company then offers to sell the doctor a plaque to hang in their office. It costs anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Sometimes the fee will include advertising in local newspapers or magazines saying the doctor has been given the “award.” The doctor doesn’t have to meet any performance standard. He or she just has to write a check to the award company.
City magazines also run lists of the “top doctors.” These are usually determined by surveys of other doctors. They end up being a popularity contest rather than a measure of a doctor’s ability.
Dr. Kent Sepkowitz is an infectious disease specialist in New York. He is often named to New York magazine’s annual list of “Top Physicians in New York.” But that doesn’t mean he thinks the list is useful.
“To my expert eye, every year the New York survey gets it about half right: Half of the selections are first-rate doctors, no doubt about it,” he says. “Another 25% are people whom I don’t know well (though I have my doubts), and 25% are certifiable duds.”
3.) Check reviews: But be careful. There are many doctor review sites. Some may have unreliable information. We recommend HealthGrades. It has more reviews than any other site. And it contains other useful information, including doctors’ hospital affiliations, insurance accepted, specialties, and board certifications.
One new feature is malpractice claims and disciplinary actions for each doctor. Be sure to check these.
HealthGrades is easy to navigate. Simply type in the name of the doctor to get reviews and other information. The site is free.
4.) Check for Big Pharma payoffs: A disturbing study found that 65% of doctors have received payments or gifts in the past year from drug and/or medical device manufacturers.
These payments have a clear influence on how doctors treat their patients. Physicians taking payments are more than three times as likely to prescribe the medications sold by the company paying them, the study found.
Dr. Genevieve Pham-Kanter is an assistant professor in Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health. She recently published the new research in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
“Patients should be aware of the incentives that their physicians face that may lead them to not always act in their patients’ best interest,” Dr. Pham-Kanter warns.
The last thing you should be worried about when you’re sick is whether your doctor is choosing the best medication for your health…or the one that will bring a fat check from Big Pharma.
ProPublica is a nonprofit journalism organization. It tracks drug company payments to doctors. Go to the group’s Dollars for Docs site and type in a doctor’s name and the state in which he or she practices.
You’ll instantly see if they’re on Big Pharma’s payroll. It will tell you exactly how much the doctor has been paid and where payments came from.
If you see that a doctor is taking thousands from pharmaceutical companies, you should cross that physician off your list.
5.) Call the office and ask these basic questions…
- Is the doctor taking new patients?
- Does the doctor take your insurance? This information can also be found on HealthGrades, but you’ll want to confirm it.
- How many patients does the doctor have? They may refuse to disclose this information. Doctors are not required to make their patient load public. But it’s worth asking. Less than 2,000 is best. Anything over 2,300 is a red flag.
- How far in advance is the doctor booked? Does the doctor offer same-day appointments in emergencies?
- What is the average waiting room time?
- How does the doctor feel about supplements? Make sure his or her views on natural treatments are compatible with yours.
Having a good doctor is too important to leave to chance. Following the steps above outlined can help make sure that your health is in good hands.
Editor’s Note: Independent Healing is your number one source for evidence-based natural health solutions. Each month we bring you non-biased, science-backed medical advice from the world’s top researchers. To subscribe, go HERE.