doctorpad With medical malpractice claims on the rise, according to a recent survey, more than 33% of Americans who do not have a primary care physician do not even think they need one.

The truth is that everyone needs a primary doctor. Whether it is help with day-to-day issues, prescription re-fills, or any other health matter, it is important to have access to a physician with whom you have an ongoing relationship, should a serious health matter ever arise.

So what is the best way to locate a doctor who is knowledgeable, kind, sympathetic, organized, and runs a reputable practice with friendly staff?

No. 1: Ask Others.  By far, the best way to find a reputable doctor is to ask others. Whether its friends, family, social media networks, or review sites,  researching what other patients have to say about physicians is a very valuable way to evaluate physicians.  Keep in mind, however, that although opinions are good at identifying a doctor’s bedside manner, they do not always indicate how capable a doctor is, from an ability or knowledge standpoint.

No. 2: Check Credentials.

Too often, patients place too much emphasis on where a doctor went to undergraduate or medical school. As most may know, however, academics and practical experience are two very different things.  Patients should evaluate where the doctor did their residency, and where they now currently practice. Too much turnover in the doctor’s professional history may indicate problems. Failed partnerships with other physicians or groups, lawsuits, or a record of discipline by the state board could also signal problems.

No. 3: Evaluate the Office

Patients should also evaluate the doctor’s office. Calling the office and speaking to the receptionist will give patients a flavor of how the doctor’s office greets new patients.  Google’s Street View can give patients at home a glimpse of the office’s exterior surroundings. Checking out the doctor’s website or online presence can also give insight into how the doctor runs his or her practice.

No. 4:  First Impressions

Another way to evaluate the doctor is to schedule an initial consultation or meeting.  Face-to-face with new professionals, most patients have an immediate gut reaction.  Do you feel comfortable with the doctor, and that the doctor respects your time, health, and medical issues? Does the doctor listen to your concerns and respond to them thoughtfully, explaining things in easy-to-understand terms?   A recent study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine found that patients who had empathetic, engaged physicians felt more supported and were better able to take charge of their own well-being.

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Many clients who end up with bad experiences with doctors typically comment that they “always had a bad feeling” about their doctor, but ignored it, or never took the time to find the right doctor.  Taking the time to research and find the right doctor can not only make routine health issues easier and more manageable, it can be a lifesaver in catastrophic circumstances.