Dr. Donnica’s Top Ten Tips for Choosing a Gynecologist

  • Identify your needs first. To do this, see “Dr. Donnica’s Decisionnaire” above.
  • Identify any limitations or lists from your insurance carrier. Some plans allow women to identify their own gyn in addition to a primary care provider (PCP); in some plans, your PCP must refer you to a gyn only when they think it’s indicated.
  • Consult your other physicians-especially women. Nurses and women physicians are wonderful resources. Not only can they evaluate their doctors professionally, but they have personal experience as well. Pediatricians are also a great resource since they often work very closely with OB’s. Ask them who they (or their female family members) go to, and why.
  • Consult your friends and family network. Ask who they have used and who they have appreciated and why.
  • Request information from your county medical society. Most county medical societies will give you names of physicians in your area that are in the specialty you select. This does not confer any kind of endorsement, however.
  • Select a gynecologist who is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. ” Board-certified” means the OB-Gyn has full credentials. That means that they have completed an accredited four year residency training program, done a certain number of surgical procedures on their own after residency, and passed the accrediting obstetrics and gynecology board exams. If a gyn is ” board-eligible” as opposed to board-certified, that doesn’t mean they’re not good gyn’s, it just means that this doctor is qualified to take the Board exam, but either hasn’t taken it yet or hasn’t passed it yet. If this concerns you, ask why.
  • Call the doctor’s office. Paying attention to the way the office staff speaks to you can tell you a lot about the overall practice style. If you get a busy signal repeatedly, that may suggest that you may have trouble getting through when you need to. Ask the receptionist if the gynecologist usually runs on time or if patients often wait for extended periods in the waiting room (uncontrollable laughter as a response is not a good sign!).
  • Ask to schedule an appointment. If you are offered an appointment several weeks away, this doctor may simply be too busy with practice or other obligations, or has limited office hours; the flip side of this is that this doctor may just be very popular or may reserve separate appointments for routine/annual exams and others for acute, problem oriented visits.
  • Request an informational interview or “getting to know you” visit. The most important predictor of whether this is the best physician for you is whether you feel comfortable with this person as a potentially trusted professional.
  • Do your homework, but trust your gut feelings. Get as much information as you can about the Ob-Gyn as a doctor, and as a person- and about his or her practice. But whether or not you will be happy and comfortable with this relationship depends upon the same factors as most other important relationships in your lives- your gut instincts.
Sources of Additional Information About Gynecologists:
Although patients often say they want more information when it comes to choosing doctors and hospitals, a 1998 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that few people bother to track down this information and even fewer report that it influences the decisions they make about where they get their health care. For those who would investigate more if they knew how, the information below may help. Most of the gynecologists practicing in the United States are well trained and well qualified, competent, respectful, and law-abiding, but how can you be sure that yours is one of them? There are ways to find out:
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) provides a “Physician Directory” as a public service for women to locate an obstetrician-gynecologist in their area. This database can be searched by physician name, state, or zip code. Note that this directory only contains the names and addresses of ACOG members. Some ob-gyn’s have elected to add basic information about their specific practices, such as the hours of operation, the hospitals with which they are affiliated, and languages spoken. If available, this information can be obtained by clicking on the link associated with the physician’s name.
  • Patients can call state medical licensing boards to check physicians’ licenses. How much information is available varies, from current license status to past problems and in some states malpractice judgments
  • Some states post physician license information on the Internet. Administrators in Medicine runs a free Docfinder site that links to about a dozen states. The American Board of Medical Specialties also can provide some information on a physician’s board certification.
  • The only public comprehensive list of doctor discipline, including 50 states’ records, Medicare and Drug Enforcement Administration sanctions, is Public Citizen’s “16,638 Questionable Doctors.” The group is not posting the information on the Internet and will charge consumers $23.50 for each book of local information- call 202-588-7780.
  • The American Medical Association Physician Select provides information on virtually every licensed physician in the United States, including more than 650,000 doctors of medicine (MD) and doctors of osteopathy or osteopathic medicine (DO). All physician credential data have been verified for accuracy and authenticated by accrediting agencies, medical schools, residency training programs, licensing and certifying boards, and other data sources. This site identifies whether a doctor is an AMA member (which is of no consequence to their ability to practice gynecology), where s/he went to medical school, board certification status; it does not discuss discipline status or other complaints.
  • Many local hospitals also provide referral services for the physicians affiliated with that hospital. Be as specific as you can regarding the type of gynecologist, convenience factors needed, and insurance information to get the best recommendations from these listing services.
  • You can also check on your doctor’s Board Certification status by calling the American Board of Medical Specialties at 1-800-776-2378. This group allows the public to verify – free of charge -a doctor’s board certification status, location, and specialty of any physician licensed in the United States. They will even provide you with a list of board certified physicians located near your zip code.
  • Evaluating complaints or disciplinary actions.You may want to check if a doctor has had any problems with his/her medical practice. Just be aware that this information is rarely complete, and generally must be checked on a state by state basis. To find out, contact your state medical licensing board (listed in your telephone book under “State Government Offices – Medical Board.”). You may also wish to check local court records to learn if your doctor has ever been charged with malpractice. Bear in mind, however, that one third of obstetricians have been “charged” with malpractice; many of these lawsuits are for bad outcomes as opposed to practicing bad medicine. This does not require culpability.