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How to Choose a New Doctor

Everyone needs a doctor with whom they are comfortable. A person’s main doctor is often called the primary care doctor. These doctors can be classified as family practitioners, internists, or geriatricians — when the doctor specializes in older adult care. A primary care doctor is the one who will get to know you and will then be able to refer you to specialists if the need arises. Choosing the right doctor is an important part of ensuring your good health. A good doctor knows you inside-out and can help you with important medical decisions.

Is it time for you to choose a new doctor? If you don’t currently have a primary care doctor or if you are not comfortable with the one you have, now may be the time to find one. Perhaps you have recently changed insurance providers and your old doctor is not covered under the new plan, you have moved to a new city, or you have had a bad experience with your doctor or the medical staff. It’s important to take the time to find a doctor that you can trust.

Some people are worried about hurting their current doctor’s feelings and that prevents them from changing doctors. Do not let that bother you. Doctors understand that everyone has different needs and it is important for everyone to have a doctor with whom they are comfortable.

What are you looking for in a doctor? Make a list of qualities that matter to you. Is it important to have a male doctor or female doctor? Should your doctor have evening hours for your convenience? What hospital or hospital group should your doctor be affiliated? Would you prefer that the doctor has an individual practice or is part of a group, so you can see one of your doctor’s partners if your doctor isn’t available?

You should talk to friends and family, medical specialists and other people you trust about your decision. Ask them for names of healthcare professionals with whom they have had good experiences. Also ask them what they liked about those experiences. Be specific. Does the doctor take time to answer questions? Is he or she part of a group practice? Questions such as these can help solidify your choice.

The Internet is another resource to locate doctors in your area. Visit the American Medical Association’s website at www.ama-assn.org or WebMD’s website at www.webmd.com. Both have sections for finding doctors. Another good idea is to call the local medical society to check if any complaints have been filed against any of the doctors on your list.

Take your insurance into consideration too. If you belong to a HMO or a PPO, you may have to choose a doctor in the plan. Otherwise you may have to pay extra to see a doctor outside the network. Most plans offer background information about their doctors.

Once you’ve narrowed down the number of doctors you’d like to choose from, get in touch with their offices. Talk to the office staff about the doctors, their education, qualifications, policies and procedures. Then, set up meetings with the doctors you are considering. Keep in mind that the doctor may charge you for this appointment.

Some questions to ask may include:

Do you have many older patients?
Can I call or email you or your staff with questions?
How do you feel about involving my family members in care decisions?
What are your thoughts about alternative treatments?

After the visit evaluate your time with the doctor and the medical staff. Decide if you can work together with these professionals. Did you feel he/she was really listening to you? Could you understand what he/she was saying? If you are not satisfied, continue with your doctor search.

A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.