Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article.

doctor patient consultation Whether you're looking for a family doctor or a new specialist, trusted referrals are critical.

Whether you’re looking for a general family physician or a targeted specialist, finding the best doctor can be a tricky endeavor. For starters, you may be limited by your insurance plan, which makes it harder to go out of network for a desired doctor.

For most people in the United States, a page of doctors’ names printed from their insurance carrier’s website is where the search typically begins. But, unfortunately, these are just names. How do you know who the best doctors are? Which ones have been disciplined or banned by hospitals? Which ones have the best track records?


Seeking a referral from your primary care physician isn’t a bad idea. But the downside is that the answer will be expectedly limited. (How many specialists can one doctor really recommend?) And, again, finding an in-network doctor might be a problem.

“Asking for a single opinion from friends or a family doctor may be very valuable, but it’s still just a single opinion,” said Claudio Teri , CEO and co-founder of Dr. Social, a website featuring verified doctor reviews to help patients find the most suitable doctors for a wide array of medical issues.

“As timing is an important factor when it comes to health matters, it is a more efficient approach to find a doctor and see his or her ratings,” said Teri.

In today’s tech-driven world, where access to everything from email to social media updates is literally at our fingertips, most of us turn to the Internet. Doctor-rating websites are becoming increasingly more common, but many come with limitations. The most obvious one is that despite the popularity of such sites, many still fail to list more than a handful of ratings.

A recent column in USA Today also points to another major caveat of such sites – the reviews can be highly subjective. According to the article, doctor ratings on these sites typically focus on things like patient wait times, physician courtesy and actual time spent with the doctor during a given visit. If you’re basing your decision on these criteria alone, a doctor’s interpersonal skills may be held in higher esteem than his or her ability to actually manage specific medical problems.

According to the same USA Today column, not only are these types of ratings limited – they also may lead some doctors to feel pressured to tweak their treatment approach in order to improve patient satisfaction. (Patient satisfaction has the ability to impact doctor salaries.)

“This causes one main effect: Patients do not have a transparent view on a doctor’s quality based on other patients’ evaluations,” said Niccol Trentanove, founder and president of Dr. Social.

Whether you’re relying on friends, a family doctor or the all mighty Internet for a doctor referral, be sure to keep the most important factors in mind: Does your new doctor have highly regarded credentials? Does he or she have a track record of excellent outcomes? Is his or her bedside manner important to you?

Asking these types of questions can be a critical part of the process, especially since many doctors who’ve been banned by hospitals or medical facilities slip through the cracks and continue practicing.