By Janet Jay

Finding a new doctor or other medical professional can be incredibly daunting– not only do you want to find someone good, but you have to also factor in cost, insurance, distance, compatibility, background, and dozens of other factors.

Luckily, knowing some basic search strategies can make your quest much easier and less stressful. Don’t let the pressure of trying to find a doctor keep you from getting treatment. You deserve a good medical team and are within your rights to keep looking until you find the right fit!

The first step is to figure out your specific needs. Maybe you need to find a GP (general practitioner) who has experience managing someone with complex medical issues; maybe you need a physical therapist who understands your particular structural problem; maybe you need to find a rheumatologist to investigate whether you have autoimmune problems. Maybe you’re instead looking for a nutritionist or a biofeedback practitioner!

No matter your target, before you search, here are some things to consider about your constraints and personal preferences.

Insurance coverage.

Like it or not, your insurance coverage is likely to be the most important factor in finding a new doctor. Every insurance plan is different, so make sure to familiarize yourself with how yours works. Does your insurance require a referral to see a specialist? What’s the difference between cost for in- and out-of-network providers? By searching your insurance’s website you should be able to find a list of providers that are covered / in-network for you.

Location. Location is another important factor. Pain can make it difficult to travel long distances, so finding someone nearby is, of course, ideal. That said, if you have a rare or complex disease, you are likely willing to travel long distances for the right care. In any case, make sure you are comfortable with the provider’s location. Keep in mind, too, the frequency of visits you’ll likely need. If it’s a one-time consult, you might be able to drive a little further to see a top-notch expert. If it’s weekly physical therapy, those miles and hours can add up quickly and cause more symptoms than they relieve.

Accessibility. This can cover range of factors. Perhaps it’s making sure the office has wheelchair access. Maybe it’s checking on their open hours. Do they offer evening or Saturday appointments so you can work around your schedule? Another thing to look for is whether they have long time wait times for being seen–even the best clinician isn’t much help if you can’t get to them in time to address your immediate needs. Finally, seeing a provider who has an electronic

medical system in place for emails and scheduling can be hugely helpful; consider asking about how they will communicate with you.

Experience. You deserve a provider who has experience with your condition. Through your insurance plan’s directory, or through the provider’s direct website, you should be able to access information about their training, education, years in practice, and clinical interests. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure you’re seeing the right person for your health.

Personal characteristics. It’s OK to want to find a provider you feel comfortable with. Maybe you would prefer a female provider, because you’ve felt dismissed by male providers in the past. Perhaps you want someone who speaks Spanish because that’s your first language. Feel free to call and ask questions about the provider’s background.

Once you have a list of covered doctors and know what you’re looking for, start Googling. There is a

lot of useful information to be found on databases like Healthgrades.com, Vitals.com, or U.S. News & World Report’s Doctor Finder directory.

After finding information on your desired provider, here’s what you should look for:

  • Hospital affiliation
  • Educational background
  • Professional experience
  • Languages spoken
  • Awards and recognition
  • Board certifications in specialties
  • Check for any negative reports in your home state’s licensing website (Google “verify a medical license in [STATE]”)
  • Other patients’ comments and reviews
  • Any press coverage or interviews they’ve given
  • Online / social media presence

When you find someone who looks like they might be a good fit, first contact them to make sure they’re accepting new patients and that they are indeed covered by your insurance. (Just because a page on your insurance website says “accepting new patients” does not mean they actually are. You can rely on those databases for the broad strokes but always need to confirm specifics.)

If you’re looking for a mental health professional or a doctor for a more personal issue, you may want to try to get them on the phone before you make your first appointment in order to get a feel for whether they may be a good fit. Sometimes a conversation is enough to tell if you have a rapport with a medical provider.

And remember: you have the right to have a doctor who listens to you and who you feel confident about. If you don’t like your doctor, you can always use these steps to find one who is a better fit.

Janet Jay has been dealing with chronic pain and depression since she was in early high school and is currently recovering from surgery for a herniated disc. Despite these challenges, she’s spent over a decade working in communications and freelance journalism, where she has been published in outlets like Maxim, Vice Motherboard, and Popular Science. She is involved in advocacy work, volunteering and her local chronic pain community, and has far more first-hand experience finding doctors than she wishes she did.

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