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How to Choose a New Doctor


A doctor consulting with an older patient

Choosing the right doctor is an important part of ensuring good health. A good doctor understands our needs, helps us with important medical decisions and makes us feel comfortable and supported under their care. But what if we don’t currently have a primary care doctor, are not comfortable with the one we have, have changed insurance policies, recently moved or have had a bad experience with our current medical staff? When we have serious concerns about our current care situation, it may be time for us to find a new doctor we can trust to provide the best care for us.

Our main doctor is generally known as our primary care doctor. These doctors can be classified as family practitioners, internists or geriatricians in cases where they specialize in older adult care. A primary care doctor is the one who will most closely monitor our general wellness and condition, and will then refer us to specialists if the need arises.

Here are some tips that can help us on our journey to find a primary care doctor who best fits our needs:

1.    Inform your current doctor 

In cases where changing doctors becomes necessary, some people may be prevented from making the switch because they are worried about hurting their current doctor’s feelings. If we are also in this situation, we should realize that doctors understand that everyone has different needs and it is important for us to have a doctor with whom we are comfortable.

2.    Consider your needs

What are we looking for in a doctor? Before we come to a decision, we may want to reflect on which of these concerns is a priority to us: 

  • Is it important to have a male doctor or female doctor? 
  • Should our doctor have evening hours for our convenience? 
  • What hospital or hospital group should our doctor be affiliated with? 
  • Would we prefer that the doctor have an individual practice or is part of a group, so we can see one of our doctor’s partners if our doctor isn’t available?

3.    Ask for advice

When making a decision, it may be helpful for us to talk to friends and family, medical specialists and other people we trust and ask them for names of health care professionals with whom they have had good experiences. We can also ask them what they specifically liked about those experiences. Did the doctor take time to answer questions? Were they part of a group practice? Questions such as these can help solidify our choice.

4.    Explore online resources

The internet is another resource to locate doctors in our area. We can visit the American Medical Association’s website or WebMD’s website, both of which have sections for finding doctors. We can also call the local medical society in our area to check if any complaints have been filed against any of the doctors on our list.

5.    Consider your insurance

We may also need to take our insurance into consideration. If we belong to a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), we may have to choose a doctor in the plan or otherwise pay extra to see a doctor outside the network. Most plans offer background information about their doctors to help us make an informed decision.

6.    Converse with potential candidates

Once we’ve narrowed down the number of doctors we’d like to choose from, we can get in touch with their offices. We can start by talking to the office staff about the doctors, their education, qualifications, policies and procedures. Then, we can set up meetings with the doctors we are considering, though we should keep in mind that the doctor may charge for this appointment.

Some questions we may want to ask the doctor 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, we can then evaluate our time with the doctor and the medical staff and decide if we can work together with these professionals. Did we feel the doctor was really listening to us? Could we understand what they were saying? If we are not satisfied, we may want to continue with our search to find a doctor who fills our needs and provides a comfortable, supportive environment for us.

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

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