Patients with a primary care doctor tend, on average, to get better care and live healthier lives. Insurance companies, for example, like to hear their customers have their own go-to doctor. Unfortunately, fewer Americans have a primary care doctor now than in the past.

But how do you find the right primary care doctor for you? You probably could and should consider a lot of key factors. But avoiding malpractice is likely high on your priority list, so here are a few issues to consider.

Americans need one but fewer have one

Primary care doctors often get to know their patients. They may not only talk and listen but record and remember what patients said in previous visits, gradually building a better understanding of them.

Studies have long shown communication is one key to reducing medical malpractice lawsuits. The doctor has better medical information for better decisions. So does the patient, allowing more accurate expectations and a better willingness to speak up sooner about problems.

Looking for online signs of malpractice

Searching for medical information on the internet can take people down countless unhelpful “rabbit holes.” But useful online resources do exist.

First, most people find it helpful to first narrow down their choices using key factors, such as whether a doctor takes your insurance plan (is “in-network”), has a convenient location or is your friends’ recommendation lists.

Next, you can look in reliable places online for possible warning signs of disciplinary actions against the doctor or that the doctor has license problems.

  • the Federation of State Medical Boards gathers license and disciplinary action data from across the U.S. and makes it available at DocInfo,
  • The Tennessee Board of Osteopathic Examination and the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners both maintain webpages that allow patients to verify the licenses of physicians.
  • The Tennessee Department of Health also offers a website where potential patients can or look for disciplinary actions against health professionals anyone practicing while unlicensed.

But not every concern leaves its mark here. For example, doctors can sometimes get problems erased for assorted reasons and some patients just do not recognize or report medical errors.

Also, not every search “hit” means you should necessarily reject that doctor. Getting some context, perhaps by asking the doctor politely but directly, can result in some surprising conversations.