How To Choose a New Family Doctor

how to choose a family doctor

Your primary care provider is an influential person in your life. They are the one that you see when you’re having a hard time conquering a cold and the person that will walk through chronic diseases with you. Your primary care provider will probably be involved in your care for a long time, so selecting a doctor with whom you feel comfortable is of paramount importance.

The reasons for needing a new doctor vary; sometimes you’ve moved to a new city, or perhaps your doctor retired or moved to a different practice. Occasionally, they may be able to give you recommendations for determining a new PCP (primary care provider), but sometimes you’re stuck on your own, searching for a new person you can trust with your health.

Here are our recommendations for choosing your new provider!

Try to get referrals

If your doctor has a suggestion for your new PCP, listen to your doctor who knows you best! If your friends or family members have a long term favorite nurse practitioner that they adore, take their advice and see their provider. If your coworker has an obstetrician or gynecologist that she can’t live without, by all means, schedule an appointment!

Good questions to ask are:

  • Do you know any excellent physicians?
  • Would your recommend your current doctor?
  • What do you like about your current doctor?
  • How long does it take to get an appointment?

Check with your insurance company

One of the worst insurance experiences possible is that of finding a doctor that you love and then being informed by your insurance company that the provider you’ve chosen is not within your network of providers. This means higher deductibles, the ability for them to balance bill you, and the services rendered may even be determined as non-covered charges.

To prevent this most unfortunate turn of events, always call your insurance company before your appointment to make sure that your physician of choice is within your network, and payable through your insurance policy.

Good questions to ask are:

  • Is this provider within my network? Have the full name of the provider and the address at which you will see him on hand when you call your insurance company.
  • Can this provider be considered my primary care provider (PCP)?
  • What will the insurance benefits be for an office visit with this provider? Will the fee be applied to the deductible, or will there be a copay?

Don’t forget to write down the name of the representative you spoke with, the time, and the date of the call. Insurance companies record their calls, so if the information you were given during your call is brought into question, you can give them the exact details they need to go back and listen to that call.

Determine what specialty you would like your doctor to have

Some women of childbearing age prefer their PCP to be their obstetrician and gynecologist. Others prefer an internist or a family medicine practitioner. You can access online searches for names of specific physicians under individual clinics as well. Here’s a quick breakdown of a few of the most common types of PCP:

  • Family practitioner: Scope of practice includes infants to adults of all ages. They may also be certified in obstetrics and minor surgery.
  • Pediatricians: These doctors have undergone education with a focus on children and adolescents. They may also be qualified to treat adults, especially those that they have been treating for chronic conditions since childhood.
  • Internists: These physicians are doctors for adults, and have extensive training in treating patients with a wide variety of medical problems and complex issues.
  • Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners or Physician Assistants: These are practitioners that have undergone different training and certification processes than medical doctors. They are often the key point of contact in many practices and are capable of treating most conditions and all ages.
  • Obstetricians/gynecologists: These usually serve as a PCP for women, especially those of childbearing age.

Call the doctors office to ask further questions:

After you’ve picked a few doctors to investigate, call their offices. The office staff will be able to provide you with information about their education, certifications, and if they have had any additional training. They will also be able to tell you about office policies, how long it takes to get an appointment (the waiting list, essentially), what insurance is accepted, if they are willing to file insurance claims on your behalf, and the details of their payment policies.

Good questions to ask are:

  • Where are you located? Where do patients park?
  • What type of health insurance is accepted at your clinic? (Be aware that, even if the staff says they accept your insurance, they may not be aware of what network you have been placed in. Always call your insurance company to confirm!)
  • What are the office hours?
  • What hospital does the doctor use?
  • Is this a group practice? What other specialties are available here?
  • How long is a typical office visit? The length of time a physician is willing to spend with a patient is usually indicative of his or her style of care. If they are willing to take a long time with you, addressing concerns and explaining things clearly, their average visit time will reflect this. If they are the sort of doctor that is more formal and less inclined to explanations and excessive chat, their visit length will be shorter.
  • Will I be able to get lab work or X-rays done in the office? If you can’t, you’ll want to find out where they will send you to get these done. You will then want to verify that facility with your insurance company as well.
  • Who will I see if this doctor is away or unavailable?

The first appointment

You’ve done it! You’ve found a physician within your network that comes well-referred and has been thoroughly investigated. It’s time for your first appointment. Be sure to bring along your tablet or smartphone to take notes of what he or she says during your visit. It’s time to get to know each other.

You will need to fill out a new patient form. If you are able to, bring a list of all your past medical problems and medications that you take, including over-the-counter medications and all prescriptions and supplements. Include the dose you take and the frequency with which you take them.  If you have access to your medical records, these may be brought along as well.

Good questions to ask are:

  • What are your perspectives on healing the body?
  • Will you give me written instructions for my care?
  • Have you treated my health conditions before with other patients?
  • May I have a family member or friend accompany me to my appointments?
  • What are your treatment goals for me?
  • Do you need my help to obtain my medical records?

After you’ve left your first appointment, its up to you to determine your feelings about this new physician. Did you feel that he or she listened to you? Were you able to ask your questions? Was he or she able to clearly answer those questions? Were your thoughts and opinions thoughtfully considered or casually brushed aside? Did you feel like your doctor was in a hurry to move on to their next appointment?

If you’re not convinced, schedule your next appointment with one of the other doctors that made it onto your list of approved physicians. If you’re still looking, take time to look through our providers. Our group of providers are caring, knowledgeable and we are accepting new patients at all of our office locations.

Already found a physician you love? Congratulations! You’ve obtained one of the most important tools to maintaining a healthy life—a physician you can trust!