Once you have figured out what you are looking for in a primary care physician, ask for referrals from friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors.
You can also check with medical societies, insurance companies, hospitals, and accreditation organizations. While you can get lists of doctors from all of these sources, most will not provide information on quality.
Below are lists of sources where you can find doctors and begin to determine the quality of care they provide.
How to find physicians:
To find a doctor who accepts Original Medicare you can go to Medicare’s consumer site. The site only includes doctors who always accept Medicare payments (take assignment); it does not include those who accept Medicare on a case-by-case basis. You can check to see if a particular doctor takes assignment. You can also look by specialty or for doctors in your area who take assignment.
- Your Medicare Advantage Plan (HMO, PPO, PFFS)
You can call your private plan and ask for a list of participating doctors in your area. Many plans list participating doctors on their web sites.
You can call the hospital you prefer to use to find doctors who are associated with it. Many hospitals list physicians on their web sites. You can find a list of hospitals by state and links to hospital web sites at the HospitalLink site.
- State and County Medical Societies
Local medical societies can give you the names of doctors from their list of members. Medical societies are voluntary membership organizations for physicians. You can find a list of state medical societies (many of which have links to county medical societies) on the American Medical Association’s (AMA) web site.
How to check quality
While these resources cannot ensure that a particular doctor is the best one for you, they can tell you something about different doctors’ knowledge and skills. Some will tell you which doctors are board certified, which means they have completed a training program in a specialty and have passed a board exam on the subject. Keep in mind that even though board certification is a good measure of a doctor’s knowledge, it is not a gauge of their bed-side manner. And it is certainly possible to get very good care from a doctor who is not board certified. The ultimate test is your own assessment.
- American Medical Association
The American Medical Association (AMA) has a search engine on its web site where you can find doctors in your area by specialty. You can also check on training and board certification.
- The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS)
ABMS is a not-for-profit organization comprising 24 medical specialty boards that oversee physician certification. You can look up a specific doctor’s credentials or find doctors who are board certified in a specific specialty in your area. The service is free but you must sign up before you can do a search. ABMS also publishes a book listing doctors, The Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists, is available at many hospitals, social security offices, area agencies on aging, senior centers and local libraries.
If you know the exact spelling of the name of the doctor you’d like to know more about, you can find out more about him or her on this web site run by Administrators in Medicine, a group of state medical board directors. You can see physicians’ licensing background and whether or not they have had any disciplinary action taken against them. The site also includes links to individual states’ licensing board web sites.