Finding a doctor is a very important task—but it can sometimes be an overwhelming decision. From all the hospitals, health systems, and private practices out there, how can you find a doctor whose education, training, location and medical interests—not to mention personality and bedside manner—match your needs and expectations?

At MedStar Health, we know that putting in the time to research and consider your options will only be worth it in the end. So check out our tips and suggestions, take a deep breath, and then find the doc who’s fit for you.

Decide what you need.

An internal medicine physician specializes in whole-body care for adults. Also called internists, primary care physicians (PCPs), or general practitioners, these doctors focus on the interactions of all your body systems and know how to help you with just about every complaint you may have. A MedStar Health PCP is your best asset when it comes to living a strong, healthy life. Each provides routine preventive care, diagnosis, and treatment for problems from the common to the not-so-common. MedStar internists also teach healthy lifestyles choices, emphasizing wellness rather than illness. Our compassionate doctors also provide education and assistance on diet, exercise, mental health, and stress reduction, all with compassionate attention focused on you.

Some people may be looking for a more specialized doctor, one with experience in an area more relevant to your needs—like a women’s health specialist with sensitivity to menopausal women, an endocrinologist with expertise in diabetes, or a cardiac rehabilitation specialist. If you are older, you may want to consider a geriatrician. MedStar Health physicians have numerous specialties and areas of interest and are happy to discuss how often we treat cases or conditions similar to yours. You can also ask us about specialty board certifications, which requires advanced training and rigorous testing.

Focus on what you want.

Sometimes, personal preferences are a big factor in deciding on a doctor. For example: Do you prefer an older physician with many years of experience and accumulated knowledge, or a younger physicians who may be more familiar with current standards-of-care, research, and, procedures? Would you feel more comfortable with a male or female doctor? What language are you most comfortable communicating in to your physician? Perhaps you feel a doctor with a certain background or experiences will understand your history more clearly than another.

You may also want to think about a provider’s approach to care: is it conservative or aggressive? Focused on disease treatment, or wellness and prevention? Consider, too, if you’d like a doctor with a warm communication style who includes you in the process or one who is more formal and relies mostly on experience and training to set your health care goals.

Get a referral.

Many of us are quick to ask a friend or family member for a good dinner recommendation or what they thought of a newly-released film. We trust the people we keep close, so why not see what they have to say about their doctor? Did your brother have a great experience with the large hospital in town? Did your friend sing the praises of her obstetrician? Listening to what your loved ones have to say may not be the only information you gather, but it certainly can be a good place to start.

If you already have a primary care doctor, you are in a great place to discuss where you might go for special procedures or further information—they can recommend specialists who have further training in a more focused area. If you have a specific chronic condition or disability, you may want to check with advocacy groups for assistance. And, many health plans have websites, directories, or customer service staff to help your search.

Make sure you’re comfortable.

Your doctor will most likely be involved in your care for a long time—and may be the first person you call if you have a health problem—so it is important to select someone with whom you can have a comfortable and honest relationship. It’s a good idea to choose a doctor who listens carefully to your concerns, explains things clearly and fully, shows respect for you, and anticipates your health problems. The doctor also should allow you to ask questions and should provide answers that you can understand.  At MedStar Health, our doctors take care to manage and guide your treatment, explain your options, and make recommendations based on their familiarity with your needs, even when other doctors get involved.

Consider location, logistics, and money.

Though they are not as weighty as “where were you trained?” getting these next bits of information may be just as important. Such as, where will you have appointments? In a large hospital or a small, satellite office? This may affect how much personal attention you receive and how much time your doctor has to spend with you. And how easy is it to get to that location? Is it near a bus line? Is there onsite parking? Health care can be stressful enough; you don’t need the added pressure of trying to get in for a check-up.

It’s also a good idea to ask: How do I make an appointment, and how long will I have to wait for that appointment? Are the office hours convenient to my schedule?  What is the staff like? Are they friendly, supportive, and helpful? Do I feel comfortable discussing my needs with them? How easy is it to communicate with the doctor? Is the office good about returning calls? Who sees patients when the doctor is out of town?

You may also have very specific concerns regarding insurance and how billing is handled. Don’t forget to find out what insurance a doctor will accept. Many insurance plans limit the providers you can choose from, or provide financial incentives for you to select from a specific list of providers. Make sure you know what your insurance covers before starting to narrow down your options.