Finding a new doctor is something that everyone will likely have to do at some point. Whether you moved, your health plan's network changed or your family's long-time doctor finally hung up his stethoscope, the process is the same for virtually every situation.
Here are six key factors to consider as you search for Dr. Right:
1. What kind of doctor do you need? Start by determining whether you need a family medicine (or general practice) doctor who can take care of individuals of all ages, a specialist, or both. Ideally, you want a doctor who can take care of most of your and your family's healthcare needs. A family medicine doctor can address a wide range of health issues, treat illnesses, and provide checkups, preventive checkups and screenings, and immunizations for your entire family.
For specific health needs, such as pregnancy, you may want an obstetrics/gynecologist (OB-GYN), or a family medicine doctor who includes this in their practice. If you have multiple chronic medical conditions that are more serious, especially if you've been hospitalized for one or more of them, you may want to consider an internal medicine doctor (called an internist).
2. Is the doctor nearby? Proximity to your home or office may mean the difference between going to the doctor when you're sick or not. Is the office nearby, or is public transportation available to get there? If location is important, research by zip code. Most health plans have online directories that are searchable by proximity from you, such as Find a Doctor on premera.com.
3. Is the doctor "in network?" Selecting a doctor that is "in network" means they are contracted with your health plan to provide services to you, typically at a lower cost to you than non-contracted doctors. You can choose to see out-of-network doctors, but you may pay more for your healthcare services. Look on your ID card to find the name of your network, then cross check that any doctor you are considering is in it.
4. How do they rate? Many health insurance companies, such as Premera, include patient ratings in the Find a Doctor tool, as well as others online (such as ZocDoc or Healthgrades.com). These tools let you review information such as education, language, specialties, hospital affiliations and even average office wait times.
5. Does your doctor work with your preferred hospital? Ask the doctor's office which hospitals they are affiliated with and make sure they are in your network. Ideally, you'll want your doctor to have privileges at the closest in-network hospital.
6. Are they accepting new patients? Imagine the frustration of finding a doctor that meets all your needs, only to learn they are not taking new patients. This is often stated in Find a Doctor directories and on the doctor's website, but always call the doctor to make sure.
Don't wait for an emergency illness or injury to find a new doctor that's right for you. If you're new in town and need a prescription refilled, set up an appointment right away. Your new doctor will likely want to first meet with you to understand your medical condition before authorizing the medication.
To get the most out of your relationship with your doctor, there's yet another step you should consider: designating a primary care provider (PCP). Doing this before your first visit can save you money and improve your quality of care.