The Savvy Shopper
O, The Oprah Magazine | From the September 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
Finding a good physician—from GP to brain surgeon—is daunting, especially when you've just moved or a new insurance plan requires you to pick from an endless roster of meaningless names. The obvious place to start is with a recommendation. Grill friends, colleagues or, better yet, any doctors you know (ask them whom they would recommend to a family member).
Barring a reference, start interviewing. Call a few doctors on your health plan (you can also get a free listing of general practitioners and specialists in your area on sites such as webmd.com), and set up appointments to talk on the phone or in person. If a physician refuses, he or she likely won't have much time for you as a patient either. Make sure the doctor has full privileges at a major hospital, and find out about her accessibility. Is she on call 24 hours a day? Are there others in her practice who can treat you if she's unavailable? Does she respond to e-mail?
If you like her answers, and her style, the next step is to check her background. You can contact your state's medical board to see if she's ever been disciplined and look through the records at your county courthouse for multiple malpractice suits—or pay $8 to $125 to do this online (physicians-background.com is one of the more pricey services, but it's thorough). Keep in mind, however, that state boards may not reveal all disciplinary actions taken against a physician. Also, many excellent doctors get sued, particularly those in specialties like neurosurgery and ob-gyn (for example, according to a survey of 2,185 MDs belonging to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than three quarters have received a claim against them, and 42 percent have had three or more claims).
All this legwork just to get an appointment makes an outfit like Best Doctors sound mighty appealing. It polls top physicians nationwide to find their recommendations in hundreds of specialties, then, for a fee, uses the information to match you with specific MDs. The various services are offered through certain insurance plans and employers as well as to individuals through bestdoctors.com or 888-362-8677. —Lauren Gravitz