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 list of doctors, most physicians are listed in the telephone yellow pages and, in larger communities, they are listed by specialty. For your main physician, you should consider a family physician or internal medicine specialist (internist); you also may want to choose an obstetrician/gynecologist if you are a woman, or a pediatrician for your children. All of these doctors are considered primary care practitioners, in that they can provide overall management of your health care. 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 specialty you select. Look in the white pages for your county medical society or association.
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 Be sure to ask whether they will accept your insurance plan (insurance plan lists often are outdated, as physicians are added or deleted from the plan).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 Web site ("Check Your Doctor") 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 Web site and also maintains a Consumer Information Unit in Sacramento specifically for this purpose. The information available through the Web site is the same as that available by writing or telephoning the Consumer Information Unit. An advantage of accessing information through the Web site is the unlimited number of records that may be checked out at one time.
If you wish to call the Consumer Information Unit (916) 263-2382, 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?
The Board does not license physicians by specialty so we have no information about the doctor's practice specialty. However, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) has a Web site that lists all physicians certified by ABMS member boards. This service allows the public to verify the board certification status, location by city and state and specialty of any physician certified by one or more of the 24 ABMS Member Boards.
What if you find that disciplinary action has been taken against the doctor?
If the physician's record shows that an "enforcement" (disciplinary) action is pending or has been taken, you can check at the home page under "Public Document Look Up." Please note that this lookup system is still under construction and not all public record documents are available at this time. 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
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.
The Medical Board has a pamphlet Information and Services for Consumers which contains more detailed information about choosing a doctor, checking on licensure, and what to do if you believe your doctor has done something wrong. For information on ordering this pamphlet:
If you prefer, you can email your request to the Webmaster at: