If you’re like most people, you probably don’t relish the idea of choosing a new doctor. Unfortunately, if your doctor retires or moves away—or if you move to a new location yourself—it’s something you’ll need to do as soon as possible.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think. There are steps you can take to make it easier, and though they do take time, they are likely to lead you to the doctor or therapist that will be best for you.
1. Before looking for a doctor, check your insurance policy.
Your health insurance policy may restrict your choices to a group of plan-approved doctors, or may at least have a list of approved doctors with whom your costs will be less. It’s disappointing to find a doctor and then discover that they aren’t covered by your insurance, so make sure you know your limits before you start your search.
Don’t hesitate to call your insurance provider for help. Ask them what limitations (if any) they have on which doctors you see. If you choose a doctor outside of the plan, find out what your costs would be. When choosing a physical therapist, ask your insurance provider if you will need a recommendation from your primary caregiver to gain coverage for any physical therapy services.
2. Decide what’s important to you when choosing a doctor.
You can help make your search easier by getting clear on what’s most important to you. When looking for a doctor or therapist, what factors carry the most weight in your opinion?
- Does the doctor’s gender matter?
- Do you need someone with evening office hours?
- Do you need someone with a specialty?
- Are you looking for someone with individual practice, or would it be more convenient for you to have a group of physicians available?
- Do you care most about the doctor's bedside manner or their expertise?
Once you have a list of the characteristics that matter to you, go back over it and decide the top four that are most important. Circle these and keep this list in mind when conducting your search.
3. When choosing a doctor, start with referrals.
It’s natural to ask your family and friends for recommendations when beginning your search for a new doctor or therapist. This is usually a good step as it’s an easy way to get started, and provides you with a list of names of people you can likely trust.
When asking for referrals, go deeper than just a name. Ask what the person likes about this doctor or therapist. Find out about the doctor’s personality and qualifications, and match what you hear with your list of priorities to see if they line up.
Do keep in mind that your needs may be different from those of your friends. Dig a little deeper to find out what you can about the physician, then do your own research to ensure a good fit.
4. Make a list of several possible doctors or therapists.
You have the names your family and friends gave you. Now it’s time to expand your search. Your insurance provider or health care plan may have a list of preferred providers available. Check the list and write down any additional names you want to consider. These websites often provide additional information on each doctor as well, which can help you to narrow your search.
You can also do a simple online search for the type of doctor you’re looking for. Simply type in your location (city or town), the specialty (family doctor or physical therapy), and hit return. You will get a list of potential professionals in your area.
If you live in a large city with a lot of healthcare professionals, this step can be a little overwhelming. You can narrow it down by looking only at doctors near you. Check the location of each doctor as you go. You may want to rule out those who are far away.
There are also doctor search websites available that can help you find additional names. All of the following are good options:
- Doctor Finder (American Medical Association)
- Certification Matters (Provides information on the person’s certifications)
- Medline Plus List of Directories
- Medicare.gov (Physician Compare Tool)
- Find a Doctor
- Find Doctors Near You
- Find a PT (for physical therapists)
5. Don’t choose a doctor without researching them first.
You probably wouldn’t hire someone to replace your roof or take care of your children without researching them first. Take the same precautions when choosing a doctor, as this person will make a big impact on your life.
First, check the individual’s website. Simply Google the doctor or therapist’s name and your location and see what you find. Next, check to see if the individual has any Google reviews. Keep in mind that all doctors and therapists will have both good and bad reviews. Observe what is there and use your best judgment.
Finally, check for additional reviews on other standard healthcare sites, like the following:
- Find a Doctor
Consider what you find and narrow your list down to three to five names. Keep your original list, however, in case you find that none of the three-to-five workout.
6. Make a list of questions to ask your new doctor or therapist.
The goal is to eventually meet with the doctor to see how you feel about him or her. But when you’re in that meeting, it’s easy to forget the questions you wanted to ask, so take some time to write them down. Some of these questions you can ask the office staff while on the phone, and others you’ll need to ask the doctor in person.
Some examples of good questions include:
- Is the doctor taking new patients?
- Which hospital does the doctor use?
- Does the doctor offer weekend or evening hours?
- What are the doctor’s certifications?
- Does the doctor have experience treating any healthcare conditions you may have?
- What is the best way to set up an appointment? How long do you have to wait for an appointment usually? What if your needs are urgent?
- Who covers for the doctor when they are away?
- Does the doctor allow emails or calls when you have questions?
- Does the doctor or therapist offer online advice or evaluations (telemedicine)?
- What equipment do you have in the office? (Does the therapist have a pool? Does the doctor perform X-rays in the office or will you have to go somewhere else?)
7. Call the doctor or therapist.
Once you have your list of questions completed, it’s time to make that first call. You will talk to the office first, so be ready to evaluate the conversation. If you choose this doctor, you will be interacting with the staff regularly, so it’s important that they are efficient, friendly, and responsive to your needs.
If the initial call with the office is going well, you have two choices:
- Hang up and make notes about what you thought of the office staff, then move to the next call.
- Ask the office if you can make an introductory appointment with the doctor.
The first choice is usually the best, as it will prevent you from making too many appointments, or from failing to give all of the physicians on your list a chance. But if you're really impressed with the staff and want to speak with this doctor, by all means, go ahead and ask for an introductory appointment.
The office’s willingness to grant you this type of appointment will also give you additional information to consider. Are they happy to do this for you? How long will you have to wait for the appointment? Keep your ears open throughout the process to get all the information you can.
8. Meet with the doctor.
Ideally, you’ll make at least two appointments with potential doctors or therapists. You can always make more than that, but try not to make less as you want to be able to compare at least two individuals.
When you go to the appointment, take your list of questions with you. Ask yourself how you feel in the office—if you feel welcome and at ease, or if something in that office bothers you or makes you feel anxious. Also check for things like cleanliness, orderliness, and efficiency.
When you’re talking with the doctor, remain aware of how you feel. Think of this as an interview, with you as the interviewer. Take note of whether the doctor shows an interest in getting to know you, whether they are happy to answer your questions, and if they explain things in a way that you understand.
When the meeting is over, take a few minutes to jot down notes before you leave the office. These notes can come in handy when you make your final choice.
9. Trust your gut when making your final doctor choice.
Once you’ve completed your introductory appointments, take some quiet time to examine your notes and recall how the meetings went. At this point, you have two choices:
- Choose the doctor you felt the best about.
- Go back to your list and try a few more doctors.
Here, it’s important to trust your gut. Don’t feel like you have to choose one of the first two or three doctors that you meet. If none of them felt right to you, go back to your list and make a few more appointments. This is a doctor you will be with for a while, so don’t be afraid to take the time you need to choose the right person.
On the other hand, if you liked one of the doctors, then your search is done and you can move forward.
10. Get your new doctor or therapist all the information they need.
Once you choose your doctor, make sure to have your medical records transferred to the office. It’s also wise to make a list of any medications you’re taking and provide the office with that information as well.
Do keep in mind that if you’re not happy with the doctor or therapist at any time, you always have the option to go somewhere else. You are never obligated to stay with a certain professional. Now that you know how to find someone new, feel free to do that whenever you need another opinion or someone who can better meet your healthcare needs.
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