"Finding a doctor before you get sick is especially important now that more insurance plans are requiring that PCPs serve as gatekeepers for our medical needs," says Trisha Torrey, author of You Bet Your Life: The Ten Mistakes Every Patient Makes. Your mission: To locate an MD with great experience; an organized, friendly office staff; and, most of all,the ability to collaborate well with you (it is,after all, your body and health). Here’s how.
Go to your network
Your social network, that is. Start by asking your friends and family (and any doctors you have and like) for the names of their favorite docs. This method may seem unscientific, but in one recent survey, doctors ranked getting a recommendation from family or friends as the most valuable way for you to choose a good physician. Consider also checking an online doctor-rating site, like vitals.com or zocdoc.com. Just keep in mind that opinions from others may be a good gauge of a doctor’s bedside manner (which is indeed important), but not necessarily a way to measure her medical ability. "Friends who have had only annual checkups don’t have as good a sense of their doctors’ medical competence, so see if you can ask someone who’s had health trouble," Torrey says. "If they felt well-served by the doctor, that’s a better bet."
That was true for Abby Gardner, 36, a New York City website editor: "Recently, I noticed a spot on my chest. My friend suggested I see her doctor, Dr. Henry Lee." Dr. Lee had found a melanoma on Gardner’s friend’s roommate, who raved about his care and professionalism. "He not only checked the spot, but also found a mole on my thigh that turned out to be was so glad to have a thorough doctor who caught it early."
If your friends don’t give you any good leads, contact your nearest academic medical center (a hospital linked to a medical school, also known as a teaching hospital) and ask for a referral. "Those centers are usually highly rated," says Lisa Rubenstein, MD, director of the VA/UCLA/RAND Center for the Study of Healthcare Provider Behavior.