How to Choose a Doctor / Physician License Information

How to Choose a Doctor (M.D.)

I need to find a new doctor. How can I make a good choice?

The Medical Board does not provide a referral service for consumers who need to choose a doctor. However, the following information may help you make a choice.

If you have health insurance, the first place to check is with your insurer or your employer's benefits office. Many insurance plans limit your choice to a list of doctors who agree to certain requirements. Many plans also require you to select a primary care physician (PCP) from their list. The PCP is then responsible for your care, and must make any necessary referrals to specialists or other health professionals.

If you are not limited to a specific list of doctors, you may want to check your local yellow pages or perform an internet search. Most physicians are listed in the telephone yellow pages and, in larger communities, they are listed by specialty. You should consider a family physician or internal medicine specialist (internist) to serve as your PCP to provide overall management of your health care. You also may want to choose an obstetrician/gynecologist if you are a woman, or a pediatrician for your children. If you are elderly, and have conditions associated with aging, you may want to seek a specialist in geriatrics as your PCP. Regardless, be sure your insurance will cover the doctor's services before you incur any charges.

You may want to talk with friends or co-workers about physicians they like. If this is not feasible, most county medical societies will give you names of physicians in your area who are in the practice specialty you are seeking.

Once you have some names, call the doctors and ask if they are accepting new patients. Be sure to ask whether they will accept your insurance plan (insurance plan lists often are outdated, as physicians are added or deleted from the plan).

Ideally, you should meet the physician and discuss your health concerns while you are well. This may be a good time to have a history and physical examination performed, but, again, make sure your insurance will cover it. Most plans will not cover an informal visit just to get acquainted.

Before you make an appointment, call the Medical Board or check on our website (License Search) to verify that the doctor has a current California license.

Physician License Information:

I need some information about a doctor. Is he licensed? Has the Board disciplined the doctor for anything?

ANYONE can obtain information from the Medical Board about whether a physician is currently licensed in this state and whether any action has been taken against his or her license. The Board provides this information through its website and also maintains a Consumer Information Unit in Sacramento specifically for this purpose. The information available through the website is the same as that available by writing or telephoning the Consumer Information Unit. An advantage of accessing information through the website is the unlimited number of records that may be checked out at one time.

If you wish to call the Consumer Information Unit (800) 633-2322, it would be helpful to have as much information as you can about the doctor, including his or her full name, office address and the city or town where the doctor practices. Especially with common surnames, there may be several doctors in California with the same or very similar names. For example, you would need to provide more information before we could verify whether Robert Smith or Karen Johnson is licensed. Because of the large volume of calls received, callers are limited to verifying no more than three physician names for each phone call.

Can I find out if my doctor is board certified?

Physicians can identify their practice specialty on their Medical Board profile and that information IS available through the Breeze Online License Lookup. You can also obtain this information by contacting the physician’s office directly, reviewing the physician’s and/or medical group’s website, or by contacting the local medical society if the physician is a member. Most physicians have a practice specialty, which is the area of medicine they have received additional training in, but not all physicians have medical specialty certification. Medical specialty certification is a voluntary process granted by a member board of the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), a private organization, or other equivalent board. Board certification is not required by the Medical Board for a physician to practice.

Please use the links below to access the ABMS website and other boards recognized by the Medical Board of California and learn more about board certification and whether your doctor is board certified.

What if you find that disciplinary action has been taken against the doctor?

If enforcement or disciplinary action has been taken against a physician's license by the Board, the public documents related to the action are available and posted on the Board’s website for a period of 10 years from the date the Board obtains the information. After 10 years, the documents are removed from the Board’s website but are still available to the public upon request. The following documents are available from the Board:

  • Accusation: the document stating the charges the Board has filed against the physician.
  • Decision: the document describing legal and factual findings and disposition of the charges filed in the Accusation and identifying any conditions or limitations imposed on the physician’s license.
  • Suspension Orders: issued by either a Superior Court judge or administrative law judge to suspend or limit a physician's practice immediately.
  • Public Letter of Reprimand: a form of discipline that can include a requirement for specified training or education.
  • Citation: a sanction that usually includes a fine imposed by the Board for technical violations of the law.

To obtain a copy of the documents not posted on this site, please contact the Central File Room at (916) 263-2525 or see the following link for specific information about how to obtain the public record documents describing the charges and the action taken by the Board.

Before You Go

Before your initial visit to a new doctor, make a list of things you want to tell him or her about your health history. Many offices will ask you to fill out a form, and may want details about:

  • surgeries you have had and when they occurred
  • current conditions for which you are being treated
  • prescription drugs you take (You may want to bring the bottles so you have correct information about strength and dosages.)
  • name and address of your previous doctor(s)
  • person to contact in an emergency
  • your employer's address and phone number
  • your insurance company and policy number (If you have an insurance I.D. card, be sure to bring it.)
  • family medical history

Questions

A very important step is to make and take with you a list of questions you want answered. These may include:

  • the doctor's specialty or special areas of practice
  • who covers the doctor's patients when he or she is not available
  • whether other physicians or non-physicians such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant will participate in your care, and whether this is optional
  • special training the doctor may have in managing any medical conditions you have (such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.)
  • whether the doctor will provide care for others in your family
  • to what hospitals he or she can admit patients
  • if there are any restrictions on the doctor's hospital privileges

It is important that your doctor is able to admit you to a hospital if you need inpatient care. If he or she does not have admitting privileges, make sure you understand how hospitalizations will be handled.

After Your Initial Visit

You should feel that you were treated courteously, that all your questions were answered, and that you were not rushed or dismissed. Your relationship with a doctor is one of the most intimate in life; you should be able to trust him or her with the most private situations or problems, and should feel that your doctor is your ally. After the initial visit, if you are satisfied with what you experienced, great. If not, remember the choice is yours. Try another doctor. It is your health that is at stake.