And how to find one that’s right for you
By Kimberly Blaker
Your physician is one of the most essential people in your life when it comes to your health. Your doctor should be someone with whom you feel comfortable discussing any health-related matter and whose knowledge you trust. You need a doctor who cares about your well-being and is accessible when you need one. Yet, sometimes, we fail to remember that a physician’s main job is to service and treat patients to the best of the doctor’s ability. If you feel that isn’t happening, it’s both your right and responsibility to your health to find a better fit.
Still, choosing to leave your physician can be a big decision. So consider all of your options before making the big leap.
Reasons you may need to leave your doctor
• Your doctor stopped taking your insurance: Sometimes, physicians make changes to the coverages they accept and discontinue accepting specific insurance plans. Patients may also be affected if the practice cuts down on Medicare or Medicaid patients or if their provider changes practices by either opening a new one or joining another.
• Your situation has changed: Many life changes may leave you needing to leave your current physician. Maybe your insurance plan has changed because you got married, divorced or started a new job. Also, if you move, visiting your old doctor’s office may be impractical or impossible.
• Your physician is not meeting your needs: There are many reasons why your doctor may not be the best match for you anymore. Perhaps you’ve developed a new medical condition that requires a more specialized background. You may also come to realize your doctor’s treatment philosophy differs from yours. For example, you may prefer a more holistic approach or want a more definite diagnosis requiring a testing your doctor is not willing or able to do.
• It’s challenging to get appointments: If your physician is very busy making it difficult to schedule appointments when you need them, you may want to consider a new provider. Getting care when you need it is often vital.
• It just doesn’t feel right: It’s essential that patients trust their physicians, feel confident in their doctors’ abilities and current knowledge, feel heard, can communicate openly without judgment, and feel safe in their provider’s care. If you don’t have this experience with your doctor or just have a gut feeling that it isn’t a good fit, listen to your instincts. When it comes to your health, you need to do what’s best for you.
How to find a new physician
Once you decide to leave your current healthcare provider, you should begin your search for a new one immediately, even if you don’t need to see one right away. It’s often several weeks to several months for new patients to be seen. After your new patient visit, future appointments are typically scheduled in a reasonable timeframe. When calling around, you might want to ask what is typical for scheduling appointments once you become an established patient.
Before you begin your search, jot down the reasons you’re leaving your current doctor. This can help you avoid those same problems in the future. Then make a list of what you want or expect from your new physician.
The first crucial step in your search is to narrow it to providers who take your insurance. Otherwise, you won’t be covered or may have to pay more out of pocket for your visits. On the other hand, if you can change insurance if necessary, you might consider physicians outside your insurance network.
Your insurance provider can help you search for physicians and practices with whom they have an agreement. You can narrow your search to fit your criteria. Then contact doctors’ offices directly to determine if they are a good match for you and accepting new patients.
Once you’ve found a good fit, check your state’s online licensing board website. Most providers can continue practicing despite problems in their history, including malpractice. If the doctor you’re considering comes from another state, check that state’s licensing board as well. You can also do an internet search for the doctor to see what information is available or read reviews. Online reviews are unreliable, however, for many reasons. So don’t put too much weight on them.
Also, there’s no harm in trying out a new physician, or a few, before making a final decision. If the doctor doesn’t end up fitting your needs, you can always continue to your search. Just be careful not to overdo the trials. You want to have a physician who knows you and your history, especially if you have particular health concerns. Seeing the same doctor will help ensure consistency in your treatment. Not to mention changing doctors can be a bit of a process because you’ll need to transfer all of your health records and complete new patient paperwork.
When is it time to see a specialist?
Your primary care physician may not be able to meet all of your particular needs, therefore, requiring you to seek a specialist. The process of finding a specialist is similar to that of finding a new physician. However, you can also get recommendations or a referral from your primary care doctor. If you’re confident in your doctor, this may be the best way to find a specialist you can trust.
Some conditions or situations for which you might want to see a specialist include:
• more complex chronic conditions
• rare or unique diseases or conditions
• a life-changing diagnosis
• conditions that require specialized surgery or intervention
• certain health conditions, such as cancer
• symptoms that aren’t getting better or have returned repeatedly
In addition, if you are a senior with multiple chronic health conditions or have health concerns related to your age, you may be better served by seeing a specialist. In this case, you might want to see a geriatrician instead of, or in addition to your primary care physician.