Whether you’re rarely sick or have multiple conditions that require frequent visits to the doctor, having a trusted and skilled health care provider is an important step in protecting your health.
A health care provider helps you maintain good health by recommending preventive services like screenings and vaccines. He or she can treat many problems directly and refer you to a specialist for more help with specific issues, as necessary.
Any number of reasons can result in needing to find a new doctor, such as moving to a new community, changes to your insurance, your old doctor retiring or needing a specialist, for example.
Finding a health care provider requires research and careful consideration. These suggestions from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can help you be more efficient and thorough as you look for a doctor who is right for you.
Ask for Recommendations
Talk to friends, family members, neighbors and coworkers about whether they have a provider they like. An endorsement from someone you know may give you greater confidence you will have a similar positive experience. If you’re looking for a new provider because of a move or retirement, you can ask your current doctor for a recommendation. If you need to make a change with your primary care doctor but see specialists or other medical professionals you like and trust, you can also request referrals from them.
Check with Your Insurance Company
If you have health insurance, you may need to choose from a list of doctors in your plan’s network. Some insurance plans may let you choose a doctor outside your network if you pay more of the cost.
To find a doctor who takes your insurance, call your insurance company and ask for a list of doctors near you who are in-network or use the insurance company’s website to search for a doctor. It’s also a good idea to call the doctor’s office and ask for confirmation they take your plan. You should have your insurance, Medicare or Medicaid card handy in case the office needs your plan details.
Narrow Your Options
In addition to checking on insurance coverage, you can gather some information that helps narrow your options. Some of the providers you consider may not be viable options for simple reasons, like their practice isn’t currently taking new patients or they don’t have office hours matching your schedule. You can also consider questions such as hospital affiliations and whether other providers can help if you need emergency care and your doctor isn’t available.
Take a Deeper Look
Online research can tell you a great deal about potential doctors, from biographical information and credentials to ratings by former patients.
When searching for a new provider, another important area to consider is financial relationships. One resource patients can consider is Open Payments, a national disclosure program within CMS that provides visibility into financial relationships between drug and medical device companies and physicians, and teaching hospitals. The government requires pharmaceutical companies, device manufacturers and group purchasing organizations to report funds they give health care providers in the form of meals, entertainment, travel, gifts, consulting fees, research payments and more, promoting transparency and helping uncover potential conflicts of interest.
It’s important to know most health care providers receive payments. Just because financial ties are reported does not mean anyone has done anything wrong. However, patients can use the information to talk with their provider about why they recommend certain medications or treatments, including asking about generic options, which are equally as effective as name brands but typically less expensive. It’s also an opportunity to start a discussion with a provider about areas of professional interest and expertise based on research or consulting.
Listen to Your Gut
If you’re undecided, request an introductory appointment with a provider you’re considering. The way you feel when you interact with the doctor and staff can tell you a lot about whether the office is the right fit. Look for a clinic where you are treated with respect and the doctor, as well others on the medical team, listen to your opinions and concerns. You should feel comfortable asking questions, and the doctor needs to be able to explain things in ways you understand.
Find more resources for your health care needs at cms.gov.
Preparing for a First Visit
An initial appointment with a new provider can be intimidating. You’re meeting someone for the first time and likely have several topics to discuss. Help keep your nerves under control and get your questions answered with these steps:
Introduce yourself. When you see the doctor and office staff, introduce yourself and let them know by what name you prefer to be called.
Ask how the office runs. Learn what days are busiest and what times are best to call. Ask what to do if there is an emergency or if you need a doctor when the office is closed.
Share your medical history. Tell the doctor about any illnesses, operations, medical conditions and other doctors you see. You may want to ask the doctor to send you a copy of the medical history form before your visit so you can fill it out at home, where you have the time and information you need to complete it.
Make a list and prioritize your concerns. If you have more than a few items to discuss, put them in order and ask about the most important ones first.
Take information with you to the doctor. Some doctors suggest you put all your medications in a bag and bring them with you. Others recommend bringing a written list. You should also have your insurance cards, names and phone numbers of other doctors you see and your medical records if the doctor doesn’t already have them.
Consider bringing a family member or friend. Your companion can remind you what you planned to discuss with the doctor if you forget. He or she can also take notes for you and help you remember what the doctor said.
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