American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Physician

Choosing a physician is one of the most important decisions you will make for you and your family.

Some initial questions to ask include:

  • Does the physician's office take your insurance plan?
  • Is it located close to your home or work?
  • Does it offer evening or weekend office hours, or do the hours fit your schedule?
  • If your physician is unavailable, can he or she recommend another physician who can see you?

Other questions to consider include:

What are my options for health care if I don't have health insurance?

Depending on your circumstances, there may be health care providers and organizations able to provide assistance if you require medical attention. College students usually have access to an on-campus health care center. Many county health departments offer walk-in clinics that charge based on income. Non-profit organizations, such as the American Red Cross, offer free health care screenings. Veterans may qualify for free or reduced-cost health care through a network of hospitals run by the Veterans Administration. Additionally, options to obtain insurance may be available under the Affordable Care Act, including enrollment in the health insurance marketplace.

When you find a physician, let that person know you are uninsured and see if you can get a discounted rate. You also could inquire about installment repayment plans or other payment assistance programs the physician offers.

Does the physician have a state medical license?

In the United States, both osteopathic physicians (DOs) and MDs are required to be licensed by the licensing board in each state in which they wish to practice medicine. Licenses are granted to ensure the public that the physician has successfully completed an appropriate sequence of medical education, including a specified amount of residency training in an accredited program, and has demonstrated competence through successful completion of an examination or other certification demonstrating qualification for licensure.

Requirements for licensure vary by state, but all physicians must take an examination that demonstrates their skills and knowledge. The Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA) and the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) are the most widely used tests.

Is the physician board certified?

A board certified physician has completed an additional training program in a specialty and has passed a rigorous exam to assess his or her knowledge, skills and experience to provide quality patient care in that specialty.

What is the difference between being a licensed physician and a certified physician?

Physicians are required to be licensed to practice medicine in the U.S. by the licensing board in each state they wish to practice.

Board certification, which is a voluntary process, is a good measure of a doctor's knowledge. However, it is possible to receive quality care from doctors who are not board certified.

How do I find out if a physician is licensed?

Administrators in Medicine, a non-profit organization that supports administrators for medical licensing and regulatory authorities, lists licensing information for many states on their website. Information on a specific physician can be obtained by selecting the "DocFinder" link.

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) website also has a directory of state licensing boards.

What does it mean to be board certified?

An AOA board certified DO is one recognized by one of the 18 approved certifying boards of the American Osteopathic Association as having achieved expertise in a medical specialty or subspecialty by completing specific specialty or subspecialty training, passing a rigorous board examination and meeting other board-specific requirements. Board certified DOs are also expected to demonstrate life-long learning and continuous quality improvement by meeting set continuing medical education requirements and participating in continuous performance evaluation.

The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) sanctions 24 specialties, many of which have subspecialties. ABMS boards evaluate physicians by examination and certify those candidates who are qualified. A number of DOs who have been trained in residencies for MDs also have the option of certifying through ABMS boards. The majority of DOs continue to be certified through the Member Boards of the American Osteopathic Association with some of those being dually certified by both AOA and ABMS boards. Physicians certified through ABMS boards also must demonstrate lifelong learning and competency through ongoing education and performance measurement.

Did the physician graduate from an accredited medical school?

In the U.S., there are two medical school accreditation agencies. Future DOs attend osteopathic medical schools, which are accredited by the American Osteopathic Association’s (AOA) Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA). Medical schools that graduate MDs are accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME).

Does the physician have any malpractice suits or complaints on file?

Contact your state’s medical licensing board for a disciplinary report. For a complete listing of state medical boards, visit the Federation of State Medical Boards website and select the “State Medical Board Info” link. State statutes may vary and many state boards are unable to release this information to the public.

What online resources are available?

American Osteopathic Association - Find a DO

American Medical Association - DoctorFinder

WebMD - Physician Directory

How do I know if a DO is right for me?

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you might want to consider seeing an osteopathic physician:

  • Do you want a physician who encourages preventive health care?

  • Do you want a physician who would be willing to explore all possible treatment options with you?

  • Do you feel comfortable speaking to a physician about factors that contribute to your health such as stress, emotional status, personal and work life?

  • Are you comfortable with a physician using a hands-on manipulative treatment to diagnose and treat illness and injury?