How to Find a Doctor You Can Trust

6 steps to finding a doctor you feel comfortable with, for breast cancer consultation, surgery or treatment

Just a couple of generations ago, medical care was much simpler than it is today. You developed symptoms, contacted the town doctor, and accepted his authority and treatment without question. You didn’t worry so much about how to find a doctor you can trust.

Today, we live in an era of patients’ rights. Each of us is entitled to a general practitioner or specialist who dispenses compassion and skill in equal parts. While this choice is our right, it is also our responsibility. Our selection is limited only by the restrictions of our health plans and our own willingness to make the time and effort to select professionals who value us as individuals as well as patients.


How To Find a Doctor So You Can Trust Your Health Care Team

Choosing a doctor to direct your breast cancer treatment and long-term care is one of the most personal decisions you’ll ever make. But for many of us, it’s an overwhelming task, particularly when we may be vulnerable from a fresh diagnosis. In fact, a recent survey by the American College of Surgeons found that on average, patients actually spend more time figuring out how to buy a car than how to find a doctor or surgeon they can trust.

Battling breast cancer requires a team of medical professionals orchestrating your treatment; it is important that you feel confident and comfortable with each of them. Whether you need an oncologist, a radiologist, or a plastic surgeon, you should feel confident that you have time to find a doctor you trust; and each member of your healthcare team needs to treat you efficiently and kindly. Odds are you’ll be much more satisfied when you invest the time to research and hand-pick your health care professionals. In most cases, you will have a few weeks between diagnosis and treatment to carefully make your selections. (Always verify this timeline with your attending physician.)


Six Tips for How To Find a Doctor You Can Trust


1. Ask for recommendations. Personal referrals are always the best source of information (yes, better than Google). Start your search by asking people how they found a doctor they trust. Whom do they recommend and why? Ask your primary doctor or gynecologist for a referral to an oncologist or other breast cancer expert. Talk with the patient advocate or physician referral representative at your breast cancer center or hospital. Nurses are often great sources of information. Seek input from relatives, friends and co-workers who have faced the same dilemma, diagnosis or treatment you’re dealing with.


2. Choose an expert. When possible, choose an expert in the field. This way, you can trust the doctor you find based on his or her reputation. If you’ve inherited the BRCA gene mutation, for example, choose a doctor who specializes in genetic medicine. Considering post-mastectomy reconstructive options? Many plastic surgeons downplay procedures they don’t perform, so choose a surgeon who is experienced and proficient in the technique you prefer.


3. Check credentials. To answer the question of how to find a doctor you can trust, you’ll have to do some research. With a list of recommended physicians, you’re ready to begin. Visit the American Medical Association’s website to verify each doctor’s credentials and training. Choose someone who is board certified in his particular area of expertise. You can find information about an individual’s board certification at the American Board of Medical Specialties. You may also want to prioritize your list by applying other personal criteria. Asking how to find a doctor you can trust means determining specifically what types of people you trust: perhaps you prefer a female physician, one who speaks your native language, or someone from your own community.


4. Contact the office. Call each doctor’s office to find out whether she takes your health insurance and is accepting new patients. Ask how to find the doctor’s office, and how quickly you can arrange an appointment. Doctors are affiliated, or have privileges, at certain hospitals; consider those who have privileges at a facility that is acceptable to you. Schedule consultations with the top three or four names on your list.


5. Take a test drive. You’re more likely to be satisfied with your care when you respect and trust the doctor you find. Visiting a few provides the opportunity to compare personalities to find the best fit for you. During each consultation, assess the physician’s people skills and personal manner. One doctor may be too aggressive for your taste; another too impersonal.


6. Look for someone who is supportive. She or he should be sympathetic to your concerns, anxiety and fears. Beware of doctors who never make eye contact, who frown at your questions, or constantly glance at the clock during your appointment. Your physician should talk with you, not at you, and give you his or her undivided attention. Much of how to find a doctor you can trust is intuitive; you should sense their honesty and support—clarifying your diagnosis, treatment, and what to expect along the way.


One individual may be experienced but dispassionate and condescending, while another fills you with confidence and trust. As more than one patient has said, if you can’t hug your doctor, you probably have the wrong one.


More Advice About How To Find a Doctor You Trust

Remember, never judge a surgeon’s ability by his brochure or website. Depend on his qualifications, feedback from other patients, and your own interaction and confidence in him. Take the time and effort to do your homework and find doctors who treat you as part of the well-organized team.

You’ll be glad you did.