Find the right doctor with these online resources

If you're having trouble finding a good doctor, the Web is a useful place to start your research. These services can help you find the right doctor for you.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read

As the health care debate rages on, we're still left wondering which doctor is best for what we need. Asking friends is a good way to find out about personal experiences, but one person's opinion might not be enough to go on. For those instances, you need some help from a Web site or two.

I've compiled a helpful list of services that will help you research doctors, and with any luck, pick a good one. Let's take a look.

Find your next doctor

DocBoard: DocBoard might feature one of the worst designs in this roundup, but I found it extremely helpful for those looking to learn more about doctors in their area.

DocBoard features a search tool called DocFinder. When inputting a query, you have the option of searching through the sites listed below the search box. There are a couple dozen state physician board sites listed. If you're looking for doctors somewhere else, you'll find links to the right of DocFinder, sending you to state pages you can't search directly on the site. Since I live in New York, I had to go to my state's respective physician's page to learn about doctors in my area.

But if you live in a state that did make its physician information available to DocBoard, I think you'll like what you find. The site will deliver information on where a doctor graduated medical school, whether or not she's still certified to practice medicine, and more. It's an extremely informative site.

DocFinder gives you useful information on several doctors. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

RateMDs: If you're familiar with RateMyProfessors, a service that allows college students to grade their teachers, you will be right at home with RateMDs.

When you start using RateMDs, you'll need to search by state. From there, you can narrow your search by city, the doctor's specialty, rating, and more. When I searched for doctors in New York, I was quite pleased by what I found. There were several doctors with dozens of reviews from patients who both liked and disliked the physician. RateMDs impressed me even more when I searched in suburban areas. Once again, the site delivered several useful reviews. And thanks to a nice design, you shouldn't have any trouble creating your own reviews.

As with any user-review site, some comments on RateMDs are inexplicably harsh, but for the most part, I think you'll be happy with what you find.

RateMDs features just about anyone you're looking for. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

The LeapFrog Group: If you're worried about which hospital you should be attending for medical treatments, The LeapFrog Group is the place to go.

When you get to the site, you'll need to input your state, ZIP code, or hospital to start. From there, the site returns a listing of all the hospitals in your area. But where it provides the most value is in the ratings of different hospital functions. The site displays ratings on a respective hospital's ability to prevent medical errors, staff intensive-care units, manage serious injuries, and much more. It determines its ratings from data it receives from hospitals, though, so you might find several facilities listed with a "declined to respond" note.

Although that does take away from The LeapFrog Group's effectiveness, I did find that the better-performing hospitals want everyone to know how well they're doing, so they will report on their successes. For that reason, The LeapFrog Group is worth trying out.

The LeapFrog Group
The LeapFrog Group helps you compare hospital safety. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

Vitals: Vitals combines the best of the ratings sites with the better doctor-research resources, making it the most useful site in this roundup.

When you first get to Vitals, you'll need to decide if you want to research doctors or find one that's best suited to your preferences. If you choose the former, you'll need to input a doctor's name and which state they practice medicine in. The site then provides you with a lot of great information, including which hospitals they frequent, where they graduated from medical school, and more. If the doctor was reviewed, you can see that review on their individual page.

Vitals first asks you to input which doctor specialty you're looking for. From there, simply input a ZIP code, choose a distance you're willing to travel, and Vitals will deliver all the doctors in the specified area that match your query. I searched for doctors in both big cities and small towns. In both cases, the sheer number of results the site returned was impressive.

I really liked Vitals. It's easily the most useful site in this roundup.

Vitals helps you find doctors in your area. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

WebMD: WebMD is best known for its information on ailments, but the site has a nice physician directory that can also be helpful.

WebMD's physician directory requires you to input where you want to search for physicians. You also need to input whatever specialty you might need. Once complete, WebMD lists one of the most comprehensive physician directories of any site in this roundup. When I searched for general practitioners in my suburban area, the site listed more than 300 doctors. Each listing features information on the doctor's gender, office location, education, and more.

With such a huge directory of doctors, it would have been nice if user reviews accompanied them. But since they don't, WebMD's service should be considered an alternative to more capable tools, or a starting point in your search.

WebMD lets you find doctors in several disciplines. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

ZocDoc: If ZocDoc was like every other service in this roundup, it wouldn't have been included in the listing because so far, the site is only available to New York City-based users. But its concept is so unique that it's worth taking a look at it and watching how it evolves.

ZocDoc looks like a simple site where you can learn more about a doctor. But once you dig a little deeper, you'll find that you can also schedule appointments on the site. It asks you why you want to be seen, how you expect to pay, and which company covers your insurance. It's a neat function.

So far, ZocDoc is extremely small. Unless you live in New York City, you won't have any reason to use the site. That said, the company says it does plan to roll out the service in more cities going forward. In order to do that, of course, it will need to partner with physician offices, so that will likely take some time. But I think it's a neat idea that's worth checking out if you happen to be in the area it serves.

ZocDoc helps you find available appointments. Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

My top three

1. Vitals: Combining reviews and research, Vitals is the place to go if you want to find a good doctor.

2. RateMDs: With such a huge database of doctor reviews, you'll want to try out RateMDs.

3. DocBoard: By providing state board information, DocBoard is a handy tool to consult when you pick a doctor.