How To Find a New Doctor That’s Right for You
Finding A New Doctor
If you don’t have a family physician or you are looking to switch from your current doctor, it’s time to start your search. If you’ve moved to a new place, changed insurance carriers, or your current doctor makes you uneasy, spending time on your search for a new doctor will help you find a good fit.
The search for a new doctor may seem like an overwhelming task. You know how important it is to choose the right doctor. Let’s simplify how to find a new primary care doctor, so your search is made more simple, easy and effective.
What to Consider
First, decide how far you are willing to travel to see your new doctor. It’s also important to consider how you will get there. Will you be traveling by car or using public transportation?
If you are driving, you should check out the parking situation. If there is plenty of free parking nearby, that’s great. But if there isn’t, check out the cost of nearby paid parking. See how far away from the doctor’s office you must travel to get free parking (if available).
If parking is an issue for you or if you can’t drive to the doctor’s office, check out the public transportation situation. Is the office near a bus or subway line?
Doctor Education and Experience
Research the doctor’s education and experience. Check if this information relates to any of your existing medical conditions. It may be beneficial to find a medical professional with a specialization or prior experience with your diagnoses and conditions. It should be noted however, many medical professionals can provide referrals to specialists when necessary to provide full heath care.
Medical History and Needs
It is important to match up a primary care doctor’s education and experience with your medical history and needs. This is especially important when it comes to addiction recovery. Choosing a doctor with the knowledge and understanding of addiction treatment can help support ongoing recovery after you’ve completed the program at the treatment center.
Certain doctors are board-certified in addiction medicine as a subspecialty.2 Certification in addiction medicine permits doctors to prescribe addiction treatment drugs to patients for maintenance or detoxification under the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 (DATA 2000). Prescription drugs such as Subutex, Suboxone, and naltrexone for recovery can be prescribed. Also, medications for co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety can be prescribed by a knowledgeable family doctor.
Cultural differences can affect a doctor-patient relationship.1 If you are unfamiliar with your doctor’s cultural background, you may be puzzled by some of his/her reactions or recommendations. Also, your doctor may make assumptions about how you should behave that are in line with his/her cultural perspective, but not with yours.
Find a doctor who has a similar cultural background if you have had conflicts with doctors in the past. Express your expectations when it comes to medical care to see if the doctor you are considering agrees with you.
What You Should Research When Finding a New Doctor
If you have health insurance, you may need to choose your new family physician from a list of doctors that accept your insurance plan. Your insurance plan may let you choose a doctor that is not on the list if you are willing to pay more of the cost. You can find the list of doctors that are in your plan by telephoning your insurance company or visiting their website.
Call your insurance company and ask them to send you a list of doctors near you who take your health insurance plan.
Use the “Find a Provider” tool on your health insurance company’s website to see a list of doctors that can be chosen as your new primary care physician. You can typically find this link for a doctor search on the main page of their website.
Enter the information, such as your health plan, zip code, and how far you are willing to travel from your home. You will receive a list of results of doctors who accept your health insurance. You can narrow the list by specialty (e.g., General Practitioner or Addiction Medicine). Check off “accepting new patients” if it is an option.
Once you have a list of doctors to consider, call each doctor’s office to confirm they take your specific health insurance plan.
Days and Hours
The days and hours a primary care physician is open will be important in your choice of a new doctor. The office schedule needs to be convenient for when you can visit. If you must squeeze in appointments, you may find yourself rescheduling or missing visits. Ask about their appointment cancellation policy.
If the doctor accepts your health insurance, ask what co-pays are required and when payment is due. Most doctors ask for the co-pay to be paid at the time of the office visit. Other doctors will bill the patient.
If you are self-paying for the entire cost of your visits, ask if payment plans are available. Also, ask what forms of payment the doctor accepts from the following: cash, check, credit cards, or financing.
Phone and Email
Some doctors reserve scheduled time to take phone calls, this could be a major factor in choosing a new doctor if it is important for you to have regular, convenient telephone access to your family physician. Emails are another way to gain quick access to your doctor without a visit. See if the doctor accepts emailed questions. Be sure to ask if there are charges for phone and email access.
See if the primary care physicians you are considering allows access to their website for simple requests. For example, the website may allow you to request or renew a prescription or to schedule an appointment.
Ask if the doctor makes house calls. Ask about the charges for house call service to balance the cost of a house call against the cost of an office visit.
Inquire about how the doctor handles urgent cases. Can you make an appointment on the same day you get sick? Also, find out how easy it will be to reach the primary care doctor in an emergency.
Most doctors have other doctors who cover for them in their off-hours. You may want to find out who tends to the patients when the doctor is out of (or away from) the office.
Recommendations / Reviews
Look online for primary care doctors in your target location. It’s important to look at recommendations and reviews from reliable sources.
Healthgrades.com is a website that publishes reviews only from patients. The ratings are based on online patient satisfaction reviews. They list doctors and dentists in their database. You can search a list of specialists near you and sort the results based on what’s most important to you. For example, you can sort by patient feedback, insurance accepted, the distance from you, and the doctor’s gender.
Your choice of doctor can decide which hospital you go to when needed. Research where the doctor has admitting privileges. Next, use the hospital ratings system at Healthgrades.com to see how that hospital compares with others in your area.
Healthgrades.com uses a hospital grading system based on hospital quality for conditions and procedures based only on clinical outcomes. The website measures hospital performance for the most common procedures and conditions done in each hospital. Healthgrades.com uses more than 45 million Medicare medical claims for the last three years from approximately 4,500 hospitals in the United States.
How to Gather Information to Make an Informed Decision
Do an Honest Self-Survey
A self-survey is when you develop a list of questions that you answer on your own. This helps bring out your feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations surrounding healthcare.
This self-survey can help you develop a profile of what you want from your doctor, what your expectations are from the medical care you’ll receive, and how you’d like to be treated.
Questions to Ask
Here is a handy checklist that can help you find the right doctor and develop your self-survey. Your self-survey can be the answers that you’d like to see from the doctor of your choice. The following questions are designed for you to get a sense of how promptly and courteously you’ll be treated.
What medical school did you attend?
What are your views on doctor-patient relationships?
Will you take time to consider my opinions and answer questions so that I can understand?
Can I call or email you with non-emergency questions? If yes, what is your response time?
What are your office days and hours?
If I need a specialist, do you help find the right one?
Is it okay to bring a family member or friend with me to an office visit?
How long have you been a primary care doctor?
How would you describe your communication style?
How do I contact you in case of an emergency?
Do you have drop-in hours?
Can I schedule a same-day appointment for urgent care?
What is your appointment cancellation policy?
Do you keep paper or electronic medical records?
Do you have any experience with (your specific issues or conditions)?
Are you board-certified? If yes, what is your specialty?
Will you encourage me to ask questions and express opinions?
How does your office handle emergencies if I can’t reach you directly?
How long is the wait for an appointment after I call to schedule a visit?
Can I get a copy of your office policies?
What is your hospital affiliation(s)?
Do you have an online website for making appointments and more information?
Don’t be afraid to ask doctor candidates questions. The right doctor for you will appreciate your commitment to finding the best family physician. A curious and thorough patient is often a healthy one due to being proactive and asking questions.
Other Helpful Steps
First, you can make telephone calls to prospective doctors. This gives you a short list of candidates you can then visit in person.
Visit Multiple Offices
Check out a few doctors before you make your final decision. It gives you a basis of comparison. Think about if:
- The doctor gave you a chance to ask questions
- The doctor was really listening to you
- You understood what the doctor was saying
- You were comfortable asking the doctor to say it again
Ask Family, Friends, and Co-workers for Doctor Recommendations
Ask other people if they know a good doctor. If they recommend their own doctor, ask what they like about their family physician.
Verify Board-Certified Information
You can verify whether a doctor is board-certified by visiting The American Board of Medical Specialties database of all board-certified physicians. You can also call toll-free to 1-866-275-2267 to confirm any board certifications.
What does “Board-Certified” Mean?
Board-certified physicians have undergone further training and passed specialized exams after medical school. This enables these doctors to become specialists in the field of family practice, addiction medicine, and many other specialties. A board certification helps you understand the doctor’s medical expertise.
Tips When Visiting a New Doctor
Once you find a new doctor that you like, there is still a bit more work to do.
Your goal is to communicate and understand basic health information. But the time the average doctor waits before interrupting a patient is 18 seconds.3
Come prepared with a checklist of things you want to cover:
- your list of concerns in order of importance
- a list of all the medications and supplements you take
- all health and life changes that have occurred
Have your medical records sent to your new doctor. Your former doctor may charge a fee for forwarding your records.
Ask your doctor what areas of your health you need to work on. This sets the stage for a discussion about your overall health.
Ask your doctor about specific things you can do to prevent future medical problems.
Ask why certain medications are being prescribed to you. Also ask what results your doctor expects to see from any medications.
Make sure you see your doctor for wellness checkups and not only when you’re ill.
A good doctor-patient relationship is a partnership. Visiting regularly and communicating openly with your doctor and the office staff are important in maintaining a healthy partnership, effective medical treatment, and your good health.