People have many reasons for changing their primary care physicians: a move to a new town, a change of health plans, a doctor’s retiring. Whatever the reason, the prospect of finding a new doctor with whom you can build a trusting relationship may seem overwhelming. The information in this article will help you find a personal physician who’s right for you.
There are several ways to get the names of doctors in a particular specialty who practice near where you live or work. (The most likely choices for a primary care physician are an internist, a family physician, an Ob/Gyn or a pediatrician.) The local hospital can give you the names of doctors in those specialties. In addition, most doctors are listed by specialty in the Yellow Pages, and those who are members of the American Medical Association are listed in the American Medical Directory (available at your library).
Personal recommendations from family members, friends and co-workers often prove helpful, so ask people you know about their doctors. Try these questions:
- Does the doctor take time to answer your questions?
- If you need to talk to the doctor, does he or she return your phone call promptly?
- Is the staff helpful?
- How far in advance do you have to book a routine office visit?
- If you’re sick, does the doctor or one of his or her partners see you the day you call?
- How long do you have to wait in the waiting room when you have an appointment?
Use the information you gather to narrow your list to three or four doctors. Call their offices and ask the receptionist or secretary questions such as these:
- Is the doctor board certified?
- Does the doctor have any subspecialties?
- What’s the average fee for an office visit for new patients? For established patients?
- How much time is allowed in the doctor’s schedule for each appointment? (It should be at least half an hour for a new patient’s first visit and 10 minutes for other visits.)
- What are the practice’s office hours? (You’ll want to be sure those hours will work with your schedule.)
After narrowing your list to one or two physicians, make an appointment to talk to those doctors. Most likely, you’ll have to pay for these visits. You may be able to arrange to talk to each doctor over the phone free of charge or for a small fee. Here are some questions you might ask:
- What preventive exams and screenings do you suggest for a woman of my age and health status?
- Do you try to involve patients in decision making?
- When lifestyle changes are an appropriate treatment option, how do you assist patients who have to make those changes?
Don’t forget that part of your mission is to find a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with. As you talk to the doctor, notice whether he or she really pays attention to your questions or seems distracted, giving “stock” answers.
The research will take time, effort and perhaps even money. But when you consider what’s at stake—your health—the payoff seems clear.