How to Pick a Good Doctor

Need to find a good doctor? Don’t know where to start? Check out this list of the top tips to know

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Need to find a good doctor? Don’t know where to start? How do you find a good doctor who fits your needs? I sat down with two physician experts to break down our six tips on finding the best doctor for you, as part of the Black America’s Health Series.

  1. Ask for word of mouth referrals.

“Just like if you saw someone in the street and their hair looks good and you’re like, hey sis, who did your hair? Same thing,” says Dr. Nicole Rochester, a board-certified pediatrician, independent health advocate, and author of Healthcare Navigation 101: A Guide for College-Bound Students (and Parents!).

Rochester recommends that a person looking for a physician start with their close circle – church members, co-workers, or family members – and ask who they see and whether they like that particular physician.

“That person can really give you the scoop about how the office runs and whether they think the doctor spends an adequate amount of time with patients,” Rochester adds.

If you don’t know someone in the area personally, try local Facebook groups or the Nextdoor App for your neighborhood. Post the types of doctors you’re looking for and ask for recommendations.

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  1. Talk to your primary doctor or other specialists you already see.

If you already have a doctor you like, you can ask them for suggestions on the other types of doctors you need.

“It’s helpful to speak with someone who knows the doctor firsthand, whether as a patient or a doctor colleague,” says Dr. Felecia Sumner, a board-certified family medicine physician, wellness strategist and author of The Doctor Will Hear You Now, a guide to making the most out of your doctor’s appointments. 

Talking to your doctor can also help you figure out the type of doctor you actually need. Does your leg problem require an orthopedic surgeon or a vascular specialist? To avoid wasting your time, run your issue by your primary physician first and ask for their guidance.

Those looking for a primary care doctor may want to try direct primary care! Sumner’s practice, Synergize Direct Primary Care, is one of more than 1,200 direct primary care practices across the United States aiming to give patients more access to their physicians on a membership basis.

  1. Check Google reviews.

Sumner does caution that Google reviews are not always accurate. It’s well known that angry customers leave more reviews than the happy ones. In fact, a 2020 report from ReviewTrackers showed consumers are 21 percent more likely to leave a negative review than a positive one.

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(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

However, if you see a pattern – comments about the doctor always running late or rude front desk staff – and those are big issues for you, it may be helpful to know that information.

  1. Ask about their philosophies.

When you’re choosing a doctor, ask yourself: 

  • What values do I need them to align with? 
  • Do I want someone who is more holistic in their approach? 
  • Would I prefer taking medication over working out or changing my diet? 
  • Do I want someone who is more aggressive in their treatment, or someone who is willing to wait things out?

Bring a list of your questions with you so you do not forget in the hustle and bustle of your appointment. 

  1. Consider if race or gender matters to you.

“It may also matter to you what race or gender they are, whether they can relate to you completely about societal issues or woes,” says Sumner.

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Having cultural similarities can help patients feel more comfortable and be more honest about the lifestyle factors, contributing to their disease. In addition, several studies, including one as recent as 2019, have shown that Black patients do better when taken care of by Black physicians.

6. Check your insurance coverage.

Certain insurance plans only cover physicians that are considered “in-network,” while others cover out-of-network physicians but at a lower amount, meaning patients will have to pay more out of their pockets. Thus, it’s important for patients to check what their coverage is, and check the insurance company’s directory for a list of in-network physicians before racking up expenses.

Bonus tip: It may take a few tries to find a doctor that you really like. 

“A lot of people don’t realize you can change your doctor,” says Rochester. “People complain and complain about their doctor and they’ve been going there for 10 years, and I’m like, ‘why haven’t you changed your doctor?’”

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with more than 20 years of print and broadcast experience, and an emergency medicine physician based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Check out more Black America’s Health context on YouTube!

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