Maybe you're new to the area. Maybe your health insurance plan has changed. Maybe your beloved doctor has retired.
Or, maybe you just want to learn more about the doctor that you currently see. For many reasons, people are interested in what they can learn about doctors in their area.
If you're looking for a new doctor, first find out which ones are affiliated with your health insurance plan—or whether you can go to any doctor you want. You can usually get this information online at the plan website.
Look under the doctor section and the headings: primary care doctor, internist (treats adults) or family practice (treats all age patients) and see which doctors are taking new patients. Or you can call the plan's 800 number and ask. You should also call the doctor's office to verify that they are taking new patients with your insurance.
Many health plan websites give information about the doctor's background and training. In some cases, they might give information about the quality of their care—how well they do keeping people healthy or treating them when they're sick.
If you're on Medicare, you can see if the doctor “participates” in Medicare (will accept Medicare as full payment so you aren't charged more). Here's a link to Medicare's Physician Compare website that provides that information: www.medicare.gov/find-a-doctor/provider-search.aspx
You might also want to know which hospital your doctor works with. Here are links to the physician directories at our local hospitals:
Anne Arundel Medical Center physician directory:http://findadoc.aahs.org/
Baltimore Washington Medical Center Find a Physician: www.mybwmc.org/find-physician
Some doctors may also be affiliated with hospitals in Baltimore or Washington, DC which might be needed in case you need specialized care.
Where else can you find information about primary care doctors? Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of resources that provide objective information. Here are two:
Maryland Board of Physicians: www.mbp.state.md.us/bpqapp/
This is the state agency that licenses doctors in Maryland. In addition to giving you information about the doctor's background, you can also find out if they've had any disciplinary actions taken against their license or any malpractice awards within the last 10 years.
The National Committee for Quality Assurance is a national organization overseeing quality of care. They've created a program where doctors can voluntarily seek to be recognized for meeting high standards in patient care.
These include primary care (called a medical home), diabetes and back care. Here's the directory that lists doctors that have earned this recognition: http://recognition.ncqa.org/
There are also a variety of sites that allow patients to rate doctors such as www.ratemds.com or www.vitals.com. The comments and ratings may offer some insight into the practice, but bear in mind that they're not scientific and may represent patients that have either overly positive or negative views.
Along the same lines, many cities, including Annapolis, have “Top Docs” ratings (http://www.whatsupmag.com/). These are also unscientific surveys of doctors regarding who they would recommend if a family member needed care in a certain clinical area. Use all of these resources with caution.
And finally, the tried and true approach of asking friends, relatives, and co-workers (particularly if any of them are nurses or other health personnel) about who they would recommend is still useful.
For more information about other doctor resources, go to the Informed Patient Institute (www.informedpatientinstitute.org)