Finding a new doctor can be stressfulespecially if you're managing a chronic condition or if your decision has to be made quickly, for example if your physician retires suddenly or you unexpectedly have to move to a new area. Here are some tips to making looking for a new doctor easier.
The first step in finding a new health care provider is deciding what type of doctor you need. Are you looking for a primary care doctor for general health concerns or routine care, or a specialist to deal with a particular medical problem?
Types of Health Care Providers
Primary care doctors include:
- General practitioners (provide comprehensive medical care)
- Pediatricians (provide medical care for children from birth to early adulthood)
- Family practitioners (provide care for all family members)
- Internists (provide care for adults)
- Geriatricians (provide care for older adults)
Medical specialists include:
- Allergists/Immunologists (diagnose and treat allergies)
- Cardiologists (diagnose and treat heart and circulatory conditions)
- Dermatologists (manage skin conditions)
- Gastroenterologists (diagnose and treat digestive tract disorders)
- Hematologists (manage blood disorders)
- Nephrologists (manage kidney disease)
- Neurologists (manage nervous system disorders)
- Neurosurgeons (perform nervous system surgery)
- Nurse-Midwives (care for women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period)
- Obstetrician/Gynecologists (OB/GYNs; diagnose and treat disorders of the female reproductive tract and care for women during pregnancy and childbirth)
- Occupational Medicine Physicians (manage work-related conditions or injuries)
- Oncologists (manage cancer care)
- Ophthalmologists (manage eye care)
- Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (perform face, mouth and jaw surgery)
- Orthopaedic Surgeons (manage care of the joints, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons)
- Otolaryngologists (manage diseases of the ears, nose, throat and head and neck)
- Pathologists (evaluate changes in body tissues and organs)
- Plastic Surgeons (perform reconstructive, restorative and corrective surgery)
- Podiatrists (manage foot care)
- Psychiatrists (diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders)
- Pulmonary Medicine Physicians (manage lung disease)
- Radiation Oncologists (specialize in cancer treatment using radiation)
- Radiologists (manage care using imaging procedures such as x-rays, ultrasound, radioactive substances and magnetic fields)
- Rheumatologists (manage care for rheumatic disease, which is characterized by inflammation, pain and stiffness in the muscles, joints and associated structures)
- Urologists (diagnose and treat disorders of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive system)
Looking for a New Doctor
Here are some tips to help you find a new primary care physician:
- Talk to your doctor if possible. If your current health care provider is leaving his or her medical practice, ask if a replacement has been chosen. If you are moving to a new area, ask if he or she can recommend a new doctor close to your new location.
- Ask family members, friends and coworkers for recommendations. Find out what they like and don't like about their own doctors.
- Contact your insurance company for a list of health care providers in your area. Many insurance companies supply their members with doctor listings that include in-plan and out-of-plan providers. Keep in mind that if you choose a doctor outside of your medical plan, your medical costs usually will be higher.
- Contact a local hospital or medical center. These facilities often have a physician referral service. Medical schools in the area may be able to provide helpful information too.
- Use an online resource, such as healthfinder.gov or doctor.healthcommunities.com.
- Make a list of possible doctors from which to choose. Start with several in case your first choice is not accepting new patients or does not participate in your insurance plan.
- Call the doctors' offices. The staff can provide important information about office policies. They can tell you whether or not the doctor is accepting new patients, how long it usually takes to get an appointment and which insurance plans they accept. Other helpful questions to ask the office staff include:
- Can you tell me about the doctor's education and training? Is he or she board-certified?
- How long has the doctor been in practice?
- Is this a single practice or is the doctor part of a group practice? If a group practice, can you tell me about the other physicians? Who sees patients when he or she is not available?
- Where is the office located? Is safe, convenient parking available? Is the office easily accessible?
- Is the doctor typically on time for appointments? How long is the usual office visit?
- Are most medical tests and lab work done in the office or in a nearby facility?
- Does the doctor see many patients with my health concerns? Does he or she see many patients my age and gender?
If you're comfortable with the answers to your questions, you may be ready to schedule your first appointment, if not, contact the next doctor on your list. Choosing a doctor is an important decisionhopefully, a decision that will serve you well for many years to come.