2 Verify that the specialist accepts your insurance.
Your doctor might have told you the specialists he recom-
mends accept your insurance. You still need to double-check
with your insurance provider and the billing department for
the specialist’s practice.
“Contracts change all the time,” King says.
3 Gather word of mouth.
Ask friends, family and neighbors if they’ve visited this spe-
cialist and what their experience was like, King advises.
Jill favors word of mouth from within the medical
“My daughter is seen by a neurosurgeon and orthopedic
surgeon. I trust them both and asked their opinions when I
was searching for a breast surgeon,” she says.
Nurses and other staff are also good people to ask.
4 Get the basic facts from the practice website or by
calling the staff.
“Consider the logistics,” King says.
Is the doctor’s practice a two-hour drive from you? Find
out if the doctor has a satellite office in Marin, as many do,
King recommends. It’s also important to find out whether
the doctor’s affiliated hospitals are near you and accept
If the first available appointment is t wo months out, that
could spell logistical problems as well.
In that first phone call, King says, you can “get a feel for how
busy the practice is and get a feel for how the staff treats you.”
5 Conduct online research.
At the very least, verify that the doctor is board certified in
his field, and rule out red flags such as disciplinary actions or
multiple malpractice suits. You can go directly to the Medical
Board of California for this information, but sites such as
Healthgrades collect this and other information in one place.
You can find patient reviews of doctors on Yelp as well
as Angie’s List and other sites. While King glances through
reviews to get a feel for how patients like the doctor, she
wouldn’t use them to make a final decision because they
are too subjective.
Jill even delves into scientific journals online, to see what
kind of research her specialist may be doing, and looks up
hospital complication rates.
6 Treat your first appointment like a job interview.
Be observant from the moment you step into the waiting
room, King advises.
“If it’s disorganized, if the staff is less than respectful
or courteous, in many cases that’s a sign of an underlying
issue,” she says.
Once in the examination room, pull out your list of prepared
questions. Jill always asks how many times the doctor has per-
formed the procedure, and what the success rate has been.
Just as important as the answers the specialist provides
is the way she receives them.
“I would listen to my gut,” King says. “It is critical when
you ask your questions that you feel heard.” m
Ask your primary care physician for two to three
specialist options, and then go home to research those
options before booking an appointment.