We’ve all been there. Our insurance changed. We moved to a new area. We had a bad experience and want to start fresh. You find yourself in the no-man’s land of being without a doctor and trying to find a new one. In some cases, your insurance will assign you a new physician, but you always have the choice of seeing anyone your insurance covers. This in itself limits the physician you can see but you want to make sure you choose the one that is going to be the best fit for you and your family.
I can’t emphasize how important a good, trusting and working relationship between a doctor and a patient is. Being on the other side of this I have had experiences where the patient would be better served by a different physician. Usually the patient initiates this but on rare occasion I have been the one who suggests they find another doctor. There can be many reasons for this from differing personalities to different ideas on medicine. A prime example is with vaccines. I believe wholeheartedly in the efficacy of vaccines and recommend them as outlined by the CDC. I have had patients who do not feel vaccines are necessary or feel they are harmful and disregard my recommendations. In this case it is hard to establish a relationship built on mutual trust if they do not feel that I am making the best decision for them or their children. If they do not trust me in that regard, how are they going to trust me to appropriately diagnose an illness and treat is correctly? The same goes for colds. A cold does not need an antibiotic and treating with an antibiotic is actually more harmful because it increases resistance and can have side effects. Some patients disagree. When this trust is broken down, the patient should move on and seek another provider.
Other times when you see a doctor, there can be bad experiences. Your personalities may not mesh well. You may not like their location or office setting. There may be someone on their staff you do not get along with. In all of these cases finding a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with is appropriate. The therapeutic relationship built between a doctor and patient needs to be a safe place where you can be honest and open to get the best care.
Luckily, I feel I have great patients and get along well with them. I work hard to establish a safe, honest relationship so I can best serve them and their needs. We work hard to employ people who represent our office well so the entire patient experience from walking in the door to leaving is the best. We are continually doing self evaluations so we can achieve a excellent care experience. You should look for an office where this is evident.
With that, here is my step by step process on how to find a doctor that best fits you:
1. Start with your insurance
So where is a good place to start? I recommend first contacting your insurance to see who they cover. You can get a list by a simple phone call or online. Once this is obtained, make a list of things you are looking for in your doctor. Do you want a male or female? Do you want a family physician, internist or pediatrician (for your children). Where do you want to go for care? Do you have any medical conditions that need special attention? Does the physician treat these? (this may be answered later) Once these questions have been answered, you can go back to the list and whittle it down to a handful of candidates. I will insert a quick comment about internists versus family physicians here. Internists are trained in adults and more complex disease processes. Family physicians get exposure to this as well but not as much. Family physicians are trained more broadly in procedures and all age groups. If you want your whole family to go to the same doctor, then FP is the way to go. If you are very debilitated with multiple disease processes and take many medications, you may want to consider an internist.
2. Do some online research
Now that you have only a handful of candidates, you can start to do some online research. This is where you can get a general feeling of how other people rate the doctors. I recommend the website healthgrades.com. Here you can put in the name of the doctor and get a lot of information. You get a short background on the doctor and ratings from other patients out of 5 stars. This will also show you the average wait time and other valuable information. This website can help you rank your potential doctors. Please take this information with a grain of salt because those who rate doctors are those who really like or really dislike the doctor. I have personal experience of doing the right thing and stopping a person who was abusing opiates and then recieving a poor review as a result.
3. Make the call
So you’ve done all the research, next you call the doctor’s office. You should ask brief questions during this call about whether the doctor treats any conditions you have and if there are any prescriptions the doctor will not write for that you are taking. If you like what you hear, then you should schedule an appointment. In some cases, you will be scheduled with a PA or nurse practitioner and you should decide whether or not it is okay with you. PAs and Nurse Practitioners are very capable care providers and I would suggest you not deny a visit solely based on this. They work closely with the doctor(s) and are more than willing to get help if needed.
4. Time for the appointment
Last is the face to face visit. Make sure you are prepared with all of your past medical history. You will be asked about any medical conditions you have, surgeries you have had, medications you take and family history. If this is extensive, then you may want to obtain records from your previous physician. Often you will also be asked about any alcohol, smoking or illicit drug use. Use this time to ask the doctor about any of your medical conditions, goals for the future to stay healthy and any other concerns you have. Sometimes, this visit is only a meet and greet and you can schedule another appointment to start tackling any medical issues or have your annual wellness exam. If you do not feel a good connection with the doctor, he or she has differing views on medicine or does not treat a condition you have, then you need to consider trying another doctor and should move back to the list in step 2 and go through the process again.
Well I hope this helps. Navigating the waters of finding a new doctor can be daunting but with this guide I hope you can more easily find a caring doctor where you feel safe to open up and foster a relationship built on mutual respect and understanding. Feel free to leave a comment with the good, bad and ugly doctor experiences you have had or send a link of this to a friend who may need it. In our changing medical insurance climate, who knows when this post may come in handy. Moving forward, I hope all future doctor visits and relationships are good ones.