Choosing the right medical specialist is an important and highly personal decision. Yet, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, most people spend significantly more time researching a car purchase than they do researching a medical specialist, doctor, or health care provider.
The three biggest reasons that so little time is spent selecting a health care provider are actually related:
- Referrals from other physicians or from friends, family or colleagues can carry a lot of weight. As a patient, I trust the individual(s) who gave me a referral, so I don’t need to do any additional research, right?
- The volume of medical information that’s available online can feel daunting. As a patient, where do I begin my research process and what sources can I trust?
- There is a perception that medical or health-related information is complicated and confusing. As a patient, how do I know which factors to consider when choosing a doctor or medical specialist?
What to Look for When Choosing a Provider
To simplify this process and empower you to choose the best medical specialist or health care provider for your needs, we have identified six factors to consider when selecting a provider.
Whether researching a dermatologist, plastic surgeon, cosmetic dentist, or other specialist,we recommend evaluating their:
- Area of medical expertise
- Reviews and the patient experience
- Proximity and convenience
- Fees and insurance coverage
Area of Medical Expertise
Ensuring your provider has specific training in and experience with your condition, procedure, or the treatment you are seeking will increase the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis and successful outcome.
For example, if you’re searching for a dermatologist, it’s important to understand that the field of dermatology, like many other medical specialties is quite large. In order to choose the dermatologist best suited to your needs, you should go a step further and consider whether those needs are:
- Cosmetic (for example: brow lift, liposuction, dermal fillers)
- Medical (for example: cryotherapy, treatment for acne, varicose vein treatment)
- Surgical (for example: Mohs surgery, skin biopsy)
Once you have a clear understanding of your needs, review the provider’s website for details that demonstrate their related experience. You should look for things like:
- Years of experience
- Number of procedures or treatments performed
- Patient outcomes
- Related education and continuing education
- Research in the field
For multi-provider practices, looking at their overall areas of specialization is also helpful. Specialized medical and health care groups often offer additional training, technology, resources, and/or peer review opportunities to their providers.
While most provider websites include their biography, along with details about their education, board certification(s), training, and sometimes even their track record, we advise taking the extra step to verify those details on a third-party site (such as the appropriate licensing board).
To begin the verification process for doctor, you can use the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) website to search for a physician.
Equivalent certification lookups are also available for: Physician’s Assistant (PA), Nurse Practitioners (NP), and Registered Nurses (RN).
If you are evaluating a treatment or procedure at a medical spa, it is important to know that med spas must be affiliated with, overseen, or run by a medical doctor. While not all procedures have to be performed by a physician, you should receive a face-to-face consultation with a doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner prior to treatment. We strongly recommend following the same review and verification process described above prior to selecting a provider associated with a med spa.
Recommendations from a primary care physician, friend, family member, and/or colleague can be exceptionally helpful. For many people, a personal recommendation carries a lot of weight in their decision-making process.
While personal recommendations can be powerful, we recommend you still do your due diligence and confirm that the provider is indeed right for you. In fact, according to a
2018 study conducted by Doctor.com, more than 80% of patients research providers online, even with a referral.
Reviews and The Patient Experience
According to the same Doctor.com study2, 60% of patients have selected one provider over another based on online reputation.
As you evaluate a provider’s online reputation and read through their reviews, some of the most important things to watch for are:
- Outcomes – Is the overall sentiment positive with regard to treatment outcomes? Were patient expectations largely met?
- The overall appearance and cleanliness of the office – Is it welcoming and comfortable?
- The provider’s ‘bedside manner’ – Did he or she spend the time to educate the patient and present their options? Did he or she seem genuinely invested in the patient’s wellbeing?
- Unexpected or unexplained fees – Did the office work with you to explain costs, insurance coverage, and payment options before your appointment?
While it’s important to find the best provider for your needs, proximity and convenience do have an impact on your overall experience. Look at the provider’s physical office location or locations–are you comfortable traveling that distance for an appointment? What about multiple or follow-up appointments? Do the provider’s hours fit into your schedule?
Fees and Insurance
With health plan and network coverage varying wildly, and with many elective medical procedures and cosmetic treatments not being covered by insurance, it is important that you know what to expect when it comes to out-of-pocket costs.
Calling your insurer or payer ahead to time to confirm coverage or in-network status of a provider is advisable. In tandem, you can typically research payment, billing, and financing options on your provider’s website or call your provider prior to your appointment to discuss.
Ultimately, the more information you have before choosing a provider, the higher the likelihood that you will find the best match for your needs. Once you’ve selected a provider, we recommend scheduling an initial consultation (and even seeking a second opinion) to ensure you have indeed chosen well.