Choosing a doctor

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 3rd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In today’s Internet age, choosing a doctor is both easier and more complex than it has ever been. With reporting systems such as Angie’s List and Health Grades, many people are now doing their own online research before making this important decision.

However, not everything is clear when it comes to selecting a doctor, according to a new report in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Because there’s not a lot of useful information out there, patients tend to look toward what they assume to be good indicators of performance: number of years of experience, or whether a doctor has been sued for malpractice. But are those good criteria? Not according to the study. In fact, it found an inverse relationship between a physician’s years of experience and performance quality. And being sued for malpractice had very little to do with how good a doctor is.

Researchers rated doctors on one-hundred and twenty-four indicators of quality of care. Using those, they found three clear indicators of physician quality: being female, board-certified and a graduate of a domestic medical school. However, they didn’t find a huge gap in patient care. The difference between the doctors with the best characteristics and the worst was only five point nine percent.

So what should a conscientious patient do? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers some guidelines. A good doctor has the training and background you need and privileges at the hospital of your choice, takes steps to prevent illness, and is accepted by your health plan. Perhaps the most important factor: He or she listens to you and encourages you to ask questions. And those are qualities that can’t be gleaned over the Internet.