How do you comparison shop for medical specialists?

I need to see an allergist, but for some strange reason there isn’t one in the medical system my GP is a part of, so he can’t refer me to one. So he told me just to open a phonebook and find one.

Anyway, there’s a site for the national association of allergists or something, but they just give me a list of names. There are a few doctor review sites, but they don’t seem especially helpful - the reviewed guys all basically say the same thing and some are unreviewed.

They also don’t address the issue of cost, which is going to be important to me because I’m paying out of pocket. I have no idea how to comparison shop for prices, since doctors generally won’t compete on prices nor can I even figure out what certain services should cost.

I know test costs will vary sometimes even for the same test (I had to get some x-rays at a place recently which charged me about double what you’d normally pay for x-rays), but not even knowing what tests I need yet, I can’t really figure out which doctor would do them for the most reasonable prices. Do I consult with one doctor, figure out what tests I should do, and then call around to see what other places charge for them?

Is it common for doctors to offer some sort of self-pay/cash discount?

I really have no idea what to do other than to basically just pick one at random, so any advice for figuring out the best fit would be appreciated.

As far as the cost, if you have insurance (which doesn’t mean you won’t be paying out of pocket, if you have HDHCP), call them up and ask them what it’s going to cost. If you don’t have insurance (or it won’t be covering it), just call up the doctor’s office and ask them. I remember the first time I saw my new ENT, when I went back for a follow up a few weeks later I told the doctor I wouldn’t be able to see him so often since it was too expensive. He pulled out a chart and showed me that the first visit was $X where as follow up would only be $Y. IOW, what he charged for different types of visits was right there in black and white. It wasn’t any big secret that involved calls to billing, running my insurance, etc…but this is a very small office with one doctor, his wife and two assistants, so that, I’m sure, made a difference.

As far as finding someone, all I can tell you is to ask around. Talk to your friends, ask any buddies you might have in the medical/drug rep (Drug reps will give you better answers the doctors IMO) field if they know anything, but that’s about it.

Oh, one more thing…the bad news. You don’t typically get a discount for self-pay/cash. You get a discount for having insurance since the insurance company negotiates a lower rate with the doctor/office/group.

Yeah, no insurance, or it wouldn’t be so tricky I guess.

Part of the problem is that I won’t know what I need, so I won’t be able to comparison shop until they want to do the tests - and I’d imagine I’d have to consult with another doctor to get the same tests ordered to figure out whether they did it cheaper, which would be kind of silly.

Are the costs of basic tests pretty standard across the board or can they vary significantly? Edit: I mean the same tests performed at different facilities.

Yes, you can very often get a discount for paying cash. Ask the office about it when you call. Many doctors discount from 25% to as much as 50% of their listed rates for those patients that ask.

The price of tests may vary; again, the best bet is to ask each office.

I’m afraid I don’t have any great advice for finding a good specialist, though. You’re already on the right path there. The only thing I can really add is that you can generally go to your state’s department of professional regulation website and look up doctors (and other licensed professionals) and see if they’ve had any complaints, warnings or actions taken against them by the license board. Obviously, you should avoid those doctors if you can.

Having recently gotten Medicare after 15 years of no insurance, I’ve been doing quite a lot of doctor-shopping recently. The main campus of the renowned Cleveland Clinic is a 10-minute drive from my house, and I’ve decided to get all my doctors there. They have a wonderful “Find a Doctor” section of their web site, where you can search in each specialty. They list the background, education, specialties, publications, etc. of each doctor, and it’s easy to make an informed decision. I’m extremely impressed with the doctors I’ve chosen this way,