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Choosing a Doctor


Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States taking nearly 300,000 lives every year, according to a John Hopkins study. Medical errors can be caused by a number of oversights and mistakes made by physicians, and sometimes it’s not their first time making them. Patients can’t prevent doctors from making mistakes but they do have the power to choose the doctors they want to see, which could make all the difference when it comes to the future of their health.

Choose Your Doctor Wisely!

Patients have more control over their quality of care than they might believe. Starting with choosing the right doctor, patients have the ability to reduce their risks of medical negligence and complications by avoiding physicians with a known history of medical malpractice or lack of experience in treating the patient’s medical needs. Deciding on a doctor should never be a rushed task, but some patients may find it hard to know where to start. Learning how to research physicians, what red flags to look for, and which important questions to ask before choosing a doctor, can be a great start in narrowing down your search to find the best physician for your care.  

The Wrong Way to Pick a Doctor

Knowing how NOT to choose a doctor can be an excellent way to avoid wasting time when it comes to your search. Patients who pick doctors on a whim or use ineffective measures could be putting their health and safety at risk by seeing physicians with a poor reputation of care or a concentration in an area of medicine that does not benefit the patients individualized care.

The Advanced Pain Institute of Texas identifies three of the most common mistakes patients make when choosing a physician that could negatively affect their care:

  1. Neglecting To Verify Doctor Credentials: Just because a doctor is listed online as a practicing physician with a number of credentials, doesn’t make this accurate information. Patients who do not check credentials could be seeing doctors with an expired or non-existent license, false board certifications, or who claim specialties in areas they are not educated enough in to practice.
  2. Not Understanding Conditions and Treatment: Not all doctors are specialized in every condition. Patients who do not fully understand their health conditions or treatment options may choose doctors who are not capable of treating them or not qualified enough to provide accurate diagnoses.
  3. Selecting Physician Based on Price and Benefits: The least expensive doctor may not always be the best. When it comes to your health, choosing a doctor only based on your insurance benefits and budget may put you in the hands of a physician who is not right for your care.

Two other major mistakes patients can make when it comes to choosing a doctor is not doing any research or only seeing doctors based on family/friend recommendations. Knowing what to look for in a qualified physician and what sources to use for reliable information is the most important skill a patient can learn when it comes to becoming the primary advocate for their healthcare.

How to Research Doctors

Luckily, patients no longer have to rely on word of mouth when it comes to locating the best local doctors. There are plenty of credible online resources for patients to utilize to look up valuable information about doctors they will need before making their first appointment, including:

  • board certification types
  • medical license standing
  • patient reviews
  • medical specialties
  • past and present medical malpractice suits
  • published medical articles/journals
  • work within the community
  • hospital affiliations

If patients are having trouble locating any of the above information online about a specific doctor this is a big red flag to choose someone else. Any doctor who does not show up in a simple Google search is not a credible physician you would want to put your health in the hands of.

For validating important information, such as board certifications, medical licenses, and medical malpractice history, Consumer Report suggests patients start off their doctor search using these resources:

Questions To Ask Your Doctor  

Once a patient has done their research on certified and licensed doctors in the area, the next step is to call a few offices to ask some general questions about the doctor and practice from the perspective of the staff. Scripps recommends asking these five simple questions before even making an appointment to see a new doctor:

  • What are the doctor’s medical qualifications and experience: If the staff does not know this question, that is not a good sign. In addition, if the staff gives you a different answer from what you were able to locate online, this could also be a red flag.
  • What hospitals does the doctor practice with: Doctors should be using accredited hospitals to refer their patients for specialty or emergency services. Asking which hospitals the doctor is affiliated with and researching the safety of that hospital can be useful in helping you make your decision on a physician.  Leap Frog Hospital Safety Grade can help you decide whether the hospital a doctor is affiliated with is a safe choice for your care.
  • What is the communication style of the doctor with his patients: Some doctors are excellent at what they do, but their personality can prevent certain patients from speaking up or getting the best quality of care. Finding a doctor you can connect with and feel comfortable confiding in is always best for your overall health.
  • How does the office handle phone calls and appointments: Finding the best doctor in town is of no use if you cannot get anyone on the phone or easily get an appointment. Find out how patients communicate with the doctor and staff. Larger practices can be hard to navigate through so finding a doctor who takes direct calls to their office is always more beneficial.
  • What are the policies for short notice or emergency care: You want to know what the office policies are for same day appointments or emergency visits before you need one. If you find a doctor who does not make time for these types of visit, it may be a sign to look elsewhere for care.

Once patients receive the answers they are looking for from these questions, they should still be prepared with a list of additional questions to ask the physician directly during the first appointment. For patients who are seeing a doctor due to a particular diagnosis, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends asking the doctor about:

  • Diagnosis: Look for specific details on your diagnosis (what is it, how did they arrive at it, what is the prognosis, how common is it, etc.)
  • Treatment: Ask about the treatment options for your diagnosis along with the benefits and side effects of each one.
  • Testing: Know about the regular and specialized testing needed, why they are recommended and what the results will show.
  • Medication: Ask for details regarding any medicine that is prescribed, how it needs to be taken, and side effects to look for.
  • Surgery: Make sure you ask a number of questions about surgery recommendations and non-surgical options for your diagnosis to avoid unnecessary surgical procedures.
  • Daily Health: Ask your doctor if they have recommendations for improving your health during your daily routine.

Stand Up For Your Health

No matter which doctor you choose to go with for you care, patients should never stop advocating for their health. Remaining informed about your care has priceless advantages when it comes to your health and safety, making you more alert to medical negligence or errors that could put you at risk.

The Cleveland Clinic provides the following tips to patients for how to stay on top of your healthcare:

  1. Be involved: Take part in decisions, share information, bring family members to important visits, and remember you are the number one priority.
  2. Speak up: Never hold back questions or concerns. You have the right to know everything about your treatments.
  3. Identify yourself: Before any treatments, tests, or procedures, make sure the staff is asking you your name and birthday to avoid medical mix-ups.
  4. Ask ahead: If you are undergoing a procedure, ask the doctors or staff to explain the entire process first before signing the consent to ensure they are informed.
  5. Make a list: If you have allergies to products or medications, always make sure to have a list. Also, include any medications you are currently on to prevent the chance of adverse reactions with new medications or treatments.

NYC Medical Malpractice Experts

Regardless of how much research a patient does on a doctor, injuries and illnesses caused by medical errors and negligence are unacceptable. Medical professionals owe the highest standards of care to their patients. For over 50 years, our expert medical malpractice attorneys at Pazer Epstein Jaffe Fein & Gozenput, P.C., have been fighting back for victims of medical negligence in New York City and the Tri-State area. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious illness or injury due to the negligence of a medical professional, call our winning team for a free consultation to explore your options for obtaining justice.

Contact us using our convenient online form or feel free to phone us in New York at 212-227-1212, or in Huntington/Long Island at 631-864-2429.

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