a doctor speaking to a patient remotely

By Janet Jay

Finding a doctor isn’t easy; finding a good doctor that your insurance covers can be even harder. Thankfully, there are a variety of strategies and tips you can use to develop a list of doctors who can provide the care you need. 

Identify your priorities

Before you start your search, consider your specific goals. Are you looking for a pain doctor to diagnose you or one to take over management and medication for your already-diagnosed chronic condition? Are you trying to find a specialist like a rheumatologist to test for specific conditions? Are you trying to get a second opinion? Before your appointment, consider using a tool like MyPainPlan to learn about the options available and produce a personalized list of treatments to discuss with your healthcare provider.

Also, consider personal qualities that may affect your medical care. If you are female, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or another type of minority, you may prefer a doctor who shares your background, or who at least has the training and experience to be an ally.

Check your insurance

In the American health care system, this is the most important step and the first place to start. Make sure you understand your coverage; in particular, make sure to know what your copay will be and whether you need a referral to see a specialist. 

First, locate the list of doctors that are covered or in-network: your insurance plan likely has this info on its website. The upside is that having all that info in one place can be helpful. The downside is that the lists are often not kept up to date: just because your insurance site says a doctor is accepting new patients doesn’t mean they still are, and just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean with 100% surety that they’re still covered. Once you narrow down your choices, call each one, double-check they’re covered, and confirm that they’re accepting new patients.

Ask for referrals 

Your current primary care doctor may have someone they work with regularly and recommend. If not, think about who in your network may be able to help. Are you a part of a chronic pain group in your area? Do you have local friends with similar diagnoses or conditions? 

Ask them who they see (and if they like them). Pain advocacy nonprofits or groups focused more narrowly on certain conditions often have lists of specialists available to share as well. 

Look at certifications and licensing boards

Doctors with a pain management certification, for instance, have undergone extra, specific training in treating chronic pain. Searching the licensing board in your state allows you to see who in your area has this qualification. 

If you are trying to find treatment for a rare condition, for instance, cluster headaches, you would want not just a neurologist, but one who is certified in headache medicine as a specialty. (The National Headache Foundation has a tool that lets you search by certifications.)

Break out the search engine 

Just be sure that the rankings and info you’re seeing are coming from an unbiased, respected source (and always take reviews with a grain of salt). Resources like the US News & World Report directory of pain management specialists or the Healthgrades pain medicine directory are good places to start. Other sites with these types of info and reviews include PainDoctor, ZocDoc, Vitals, Rate MDs, and AngiesList

In addition to patient reviews, these sites can include information about doctors’ qualifications, certifications, professional memberships or affiliations, and any disciplinary actions taken against them.

Expand your search

What if you’re STILL having trouble finding someone? Consider widening your search however you can. If you can’t find a good MD, have you considered seeing a DO (a doctor of osteopathic medicine), which is a type of full medical doctor with extra training that tends to focus on holistic health? If you can’t get into a doctor anytime soon, can you go to a nurse practitioner with prescribing privileges? (Some find this an especially good option for psychiatric care.) 

If the absolute best neurologist in the city doesn’t have a new patient appointment for 8 months, maybe another doctor in her practice has almost as good a background and could see you far sooner. If your schedule can accommodate it, one way to be seen more quickly is to ask your specialist’s office whether you could be put on a “waitlist” to be contacted if someone else cancels their appointment unexpectedly. 

You may also want to consider expanding your search parameters to find a better quality doctor as well. If you can drive, a longer trip might be worth it. You can also ask a friend or family member for help with a ride, or use a paid ride service. 

At the end of the day, everything is a tradeoff, but having a doctor who you trust and respect, and who trusts and respects you in turn, can make an enormous difference in not just your chronic pain treatment, but in your life as a whole.