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Who to see when you need an M.D. Our all-new list includes the 581 best physicians in metro Milwaukee, as chosen by their peers.

How to Choose a Doctor

Our guide to sorting through the available information to find doctors with the clinical skills and personal touch you need when it matters most.

Having a doctor you’re indifferent about is fine, as long as your health is fine. But when a concern arises, having a good relationship with a trusted doctor not only is a source of comfort; it can also improve your prospects for a positive health outcome, according to a 2014 Harvard study. But how do you find the right fit? Cracking the binding on those in-network books or navigating insurance drop-down menus isn’t all that illuminating, and a simple thumbnail photo and brief bio do little to clue you in as to whether you’ll feel comfortable exposing the intimate details of your health history.

“I think we’ve all been faced with a list of providers and grasped at something that makes one stand out over the others, for instance their medical school or birthplace,” says Dr. Laurel Woods, a family physician at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding your doctor, there are some strategies that can help you zero in on someone you like.

Know Your Needs

A little upfront reflection and self-analysis might save time and headaches. “Take a moment and think about yourself,” says Woods. Do you value an efficient, in-and-out visit, or do you want to feel like you’re the only one on the schedule that day? Do you trust someone authoritative and decisive to tell you exactly what you need, or do you prefer a more collaborative doctor-patient partnership? Are there any past medical experiences that stand out, for better or worse? Use them, says Woods, to help shape your choices — and don’t forget to ask friends and family. “Word of mouth may give you some clues as to a doctor’s bedside manner and treatment style,” says Woods.

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Meet and Greet

When you’ve settled on a potential candidate, think of your first visit as a litmus test to see if you’re a good fit for each other — and be sure to note the clinic vibe as well. “A good system is necessary to make a good doctor,” says Woods. “If you don’t feel right being in a clinic or in an appointment or interaction, then that isn’t the place for you.”

Approach this initial meeting as a job interview and ask questions that reveal his or her philosophy of care. For example, how does she feel incorporating or recommending alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, herbs or nutritional counseling? How does she feel about second opinions and collaborative care?

“One of the most important questions is, first of all, what is the scope of their practice?” says Katie Deprey, registered nurse and patient advocate. While you may not need a specialist today, it’s important to consider what happens when you do. Does your potential doctor attempt to treat most things, or does he or she prefer to bring in specialists early? Does your doctor’s network put all of its specialists in one place, or would you be driving all over the city? Finding a provider who clearly communicates basic philosophies is really important; even more critical, says Deprey, is feeling comfortable asking in the first place.

“If they’re not being attentive when you ask those questions, it’s likely they are not going to be attentive to your medical issues either,” she says.

Online Reviews: Proceed with Caution

Word of mouth used to be a preferred method of finding a physician, but now, 85 percent of people turn to online review sites such as Healthgrades and Angie’s List, according to a 2015 survey. While these sites may be helpful and empowering, take them with a grain of salt, says Katie Deprey, registered nurse and co-owner of By Your Side Care Management. Reviewers are a self-selecting crowd, and unsatisfied patients are more likely to write reviews that can be one-sided and lacking context. “Working in the ER, I saw physicians would get downgraded if they did not give people narcotic meds they wanted,” says Deprey. Even less subjective metrics used by insurers (such as the percentage of patients who receive their scheduled immunizations or annual screenings) don’t necessarily reflect the quality of a physician, who may be working in a region where patients lack access to healthcare, for example.

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Top Doctors Listings

Information in these 581 listings of the area’s best physicians in 59 specialties, selected via a peer-review process, was compiled by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. for Milwaukee Magazine. See bottom for the full methodology.

Read the rest of this story in the August issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Find a copy on newsstands beginning Monday, Aug. 1, buy a copy online at milwaukeemag.com/shop, or read it now using Member Pass

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