For most people, the first step to finding a new, well, anything is to hit the Internet. You Google for reviews, find the product's website, check out user forums, and ask your friends on Facebook or Twitter what they would recommend.
If you can do that for a washing machine, why can't you do it for a doctor? Information on doctors is difficult, if not impossible, to track down online. What sites do exist are either paid (like Angie's List) or have completely uncontrolled reviews, which means a doctor and her staff could be padding them (or someone with a grudge could be dragging them down).
Sites like HealthGrades have lots of basic information about doctors, such as years in practice, specialities, and brief reviews, but often have such a small number of comments that they aren't helpful in determining whether this doctor would be right for you or not. Or you need to register to get the most complete report.
Luckily, there are some ways to check basic facts about a doctor without having to give up any of your own personal information.
Vitals.com is pretty good and free. However, it does allow doctors to respond to reviews and otherwise drive patient referrals their way. You can also find information about a doctor's license, open formal complaints, and disciplinary actions. If you want to check a doctor's board certification, you can try the American Board of Medical Specialties, but you have to register and it's pretty clunky to use.
The hospital where the doctor works or your health plan's website will likely have basic information about doctors as well, including board certification and experience. Once you have a list narrowed down, you can run them through the other databases or the commercial rating sites.
What we need is something like an Amazon.com or Consumer Reports for doctors. Until then, buyer (or patient) beware is the best bet.
Image via Lauren Nelson/Flickr