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Savvy Senior: Tips, resources for finding a good doctor

Updated May 16, 2024 - 9:33 am

Dear Savvy Senior: Can you recommend good resources to help me locate quality doctors in my area? I’m looking for an orthopedic doctor for my 77-year-old mother and a new internist for me, since my doctor retired last year. — Searching Susan

Dear Searching Susan: Finding and researching doctors is a lot easier than it used to be. Today, there are 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 good sites to help you get started, with a few additional tips that can help you find the right doctors.

Searching tips

To help you locate good doctors in your area, a good first step is to get referrals from trusted friends, with any doctors, nurses or other health care professionals you know.

You also need to check with your insurance provider. Call your insurer for a list of approved doctors or ask whether the doctor you’re considering is in your network.

If your mother is enrolled in original Medicare, you can use the care compare tool at Medicare.gov. This will let you search — by name, medical specialty or geographic location — for doctors who accept original Medicare. If she’s enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, call or visit the plan website to get a list of approved candidates.

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.

You should also consider hospital affiliation. Your choice of doctor can determine which hospital you go to, if needed, so find out where the doctor has admitting privileges. Then use some hospital ratings services (Medicare.gov also has a tool for that) to see how it compares with other hospitals in the area.

Researching doctors

After you find a few doctors you’re interested in, there are websites you can consult to help you evaluate them. For example, the Federation of State Medical Boards offers a tool at DocInfo.org that will let you find out a doctor’s board certifications, education, states with active licenses, and whether a physician has been disciplined by a state medical board.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is also a good source for researching doctors. For example, it will help you find out how many times a doctor has done a particular procedure and what they charge for it — go to Data.CMS.gov.

To learn about the financial relationship that doctors have with drug and medical device companies, visit OpenPaymentsData.CMS.gov.

Some other good sites for finding and researching health care professionals include healthgrades.com and vitals.com. Both sites provide substantial information on doctors’ education and training, hospital affiliations, board certification, awards and recognitions, professional misconduct, disciplinary action, office locations and accepted insurance plans.

They also offer five-star ratings scales from past patients on issues such as communication and listening skills, wait time, time spent with the patient, office friendliness and more. But be aware that while physician rating websites can be helpful, they can also be misleading and unreliable.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.

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