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Using the Internet to Find & Choose Health Care Providers & Services

The information below can help you utilize the Internet to find and choose health care providers and services.

1. Can you find a doctor, treatment program, or health facility using the Internet?

Yes, but many issues should be considered before deciding on which doctor or health care practitioner is right for you. Often, the realities of geographic location and insurance coverage are deciding factors. It is possible, however, to get assistance online before making your choice.

2. Begin your search with a trusted directory.

Reliable health services information is produced by reputable sources such as government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or professional associations. Look for an "About Us" page. The Go Local section of NC Health Info allows you to search for specialists and services in your own community.

3. Consider who supplies the information contained in the directory.

Some directories feature information provided by the physicians or facilities themselves and some use information compiled by third parties. Neither approach is inherently better than the other.

4. Understand the limitations or scope of the directory.

Look for a disclaimer statement that covers responsibility for accuracy, completeness, and currency of the data.

5. Is there a way to do a background search for a specific physician online?

The North Carolina Medical Board regulates the practice of medicine and serves to protect the health, safety and welfare of North Carolinians. You may search their database for information on the license status, credentials, qualifications, and specialties of physicians, physician assistants, anesthesiologist assistants, clinical pharmacist practitioners, or perfusionists.

For providers such as acupuncturists, massage and bodywork therapists, psychologists, and others not covered by the NC Medical Board, use the list of NC Licensing Boards available on NC Health Info.

6. How can I use the Internet to determine which doctor is "best" for a specific condition, treatment, or procedure?

This can be challenging as there is not a single comprehensive source of this type of information. There are several resources you might check.

  • Use the American Board of Medical Specialties  site to learn why it is important that physicians be board certified and to determine whether a particular physician has this credential. Consider HealthGrades for more detailed information such as contact information, languages spoken, and types of insurance accepted.
  • Try Hospital Compare to see if the doctor has better than average outcomes for surgery, heart attack, heart failure, or pneumonia treatment. Since this data is often attributed to hospital department rather than specific provider, it may be necessary to call and verify whether the treatment or procedure is something the doctor does frequently.
  • Use PubMed to see who is conducting research and writing medical articles on a particular topic. For a Tip Sheet on how to search Pub Med see: Finding Medical Journal Articles in PubMed

7. Is there a way to find out how patients rate physicians?

Online physician ratings allow patients to publicly and anonymously critique their doctors, providing one of the newest tools available to consumers to help them select a doctor. Online physician ratings can be helpful, but they don't provide a complete picture of a physician's qualifications and, because they reflect a patient's personal experience, they may be biased. Use these with caution: DrScore or Vitals.com.

8. Is there a way to find out about the quality of care offered by a specific hospital?

Several sites and services provide some information to help patients understand how well a specific hospital may care for its patients. It is important to understand, however, that determining the quality of hospital care is a complicated issue. In addition to Hospital Compare try:

  • Leapfrog : information on this site is derived from hospitals' voluntary submissions of Leapfrog's Hospital Quality and Safety Survey and Leapfrog Hospital Insights data.
  • Too Much Treatment? : for a good explanation of overtreatment and aggressive care as well as hospital ratings using this criterion.
  • America's Best Hospitals : maintained by U.S News and World Report.

9. Is there a way to find out about the quality of care offered by a specific nursing home?

Use Nursing Home Compare to view a list of nursing homes that have a record of persistently poor survey performance and have been selected for more frequent inspections and monitoring, or visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid site.

10. Need more information?

For more information on this topic see: Choosing a Doctor or Health Care Service from MedlinePlus.

 

Page authored by Christie Silbajoris, Health Sciences Library at UNC-Chapel Hill.