If you’re trying to find a doctor you can trust, your first instinct may be to call friends and family for a recommendation or to scour the Internet to see what other people think about local healthcare providers. But those people may have different insurance coverage or requirements for a doctor than you do, so there are better strategies for finding a doctor—they're backed by research or include infor­mation from professional medical organizations.

As you work to find a doctor, start by asking healthcare professionals you respect who they would recommend. Then look through your health insurance plan’s directory to determine which of those doctors also accept your insurance. Check to see which candidates have office locations and office hours that are convenient. After you whittle down your list to a few names, call them to confirm that they still accept your insurance and are taking new patients. Before you decide, take some smart steps.

Check Medical Credentials

First, you’ll want to determine whether any prospective physician is board-certified—which means he or she has gone beyond the competency standards required to get a medical license, and has undergone rigorous testing and peer evaluation in a specific area, such as internal medicine or dermatology. This will help you narrow down the choices as you try to find a doctor. You’ll find that information on the American Board of Medical Specialties website or on your state’s department of health website. 

Read our Special Investigation, "What You Don't Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You."

Know the Doctor's Hospital

Many hospitals now employ “hospitalists,” physicians who provide in-patient treatment. That means when you find a doctor, he or she may not be able to give you hands-on care if you are hospitalized. Ideally, however, you want your doctor to have admitting or consulting privileges at the facility of your choice so that he or she can be as involved as possible in your care if you’re in the hospital.

Unless you live in a remote community, you probably have several hospital options reasonably nearby for elective surgery and other services. Safety should be your primary concern, and you can now check Consumer Reports’ hospital Ratings free to determine how well local facilities do at preventing infections.

Find Out About Pharma Money

Some doctors have financial relationships with drug or medical device companies, which can mean that they receive funding for research, speaking fees, or free meals and travel accommodations for conferences.

Why should you care about this when you're working to find a doctor? Because you want to be sure that any doctors you see would prescribe the best possible drug or device for you, without a bias toward one with which they have significant financial ties.

At the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Open Payments website, you can see whether a company has paid a doctor and what the fee was for (such as food and beverages). The ProPublica Dollars for Docs website will also name the drug or device any payments are related to, if that information is available, and list doctors who have received the highest payments by state.

Search for Sanctions

Before you decide on a doctor, you want to make sure he or she has not been sanctioned for professional misconduct such as medical negligence, fraud, or drug or alcohol abuse. (Sanctions can include reprimands, probation and restriction, suspension, or even loss of a physician’s medical license.)

At present, a physician is not required to notify you if he or she has been disciplined. To find out whether a physician on your “maybe” list is practicing while on probation or had prior disciplinary actions, look him up on your state medical board site. You can find a directory of state medical boards on the website of the Federation of State Medical Boards.