Finding the right doctor for your family can be a trying proposition. With the ever-evolving healthcare landscape it can be daunting just trying to figure out the appropriate questions to ask. Here are some tips on what to look for when choosing a new primary care provider:
1. Location, location, location…
It doesn’t matter if you have the world’s greatest family doctor. If he/she isn’t easy to get to it creates problems, especially if you have kids and a full-time job. It is also a good idea to look at what sort of hours the office has. Consider choosing a doctor that offers flexible hours and fits best with your schedule. Many larger health systems now even provide urgent care locations with night and weekend hours and then share your visit information with your regular primary care provider.
2. The doctor can see you….in six months.
If you currently don’t bother seeing your doctor when you’re sick because you know by the time you get an appointment you will either be healthy or deceased, it may be time to find a new provider. So when searching for a new primary care provider, ask the question, “How long does it typically take to get an appointment?” Most primary care doctors will try to work you in sooner if your condition is urgent in nature. If they are telling you that they can’t fit you in and are suggesting you go to the ER for less than emergency symptoms you should really consider finding a provider with more availability or who partners with an urgent care provider.
3. That’s my specialty!
Identify what your needs are. If you are an octogenarian, you probably don’t need to be seeing a doctor that gives you a lollipop after your check-up (unless you really like lollipops.) You may want to find a doctor with more experience in treating geriatric conditions. Likewise, if you have children you may want to find a family practice location so you can all be seen under the same roof. Pay attention to your doctor’s title; there are several types of generalists, including general practitioners, family practitioners, pediatricians, geriatricians, and internists. Each varies in years of residency programs, board certifications and specialty, so choose what fits your needs.
4. Ask people you know.
Word of mouth can be helpful when choosing a new primary care provider, especially if the person you ask has a life similar to yours—like kids or the same insurance carrier. Ask your relatives, co-workers and close friends if they can recommend someone for your family.
5. Is your doctor “liked”?
There are a slew of online find-a-doc sites out there now, and many of them provide patient scores, background information and insurances accepted. If you are completely new in an area, these sites can be extremely helpful as a starting point to finding the right doctor. They can also be helpful if you are considering a doctor and just want more information about them. A basic Google search of the doctor’s name doesn’t hurt either.
6. How do I pay for this? Traditional Indemnity, HMO, PPO, ACO, OMG!
It’s complicated and probably the last thing in the world you want to spend time with, but you need to understand what kind of insurance you have and how it works. Do you have co-pays? Is there a deductable? Is the doctor you’re thinking about choosing even part of your network? These are things that if you don’t know your insurance carrier or HR department will be able to explain for you in detail. Spend the hour on the phone; it’s worth it. You may even find out you get a discount at the local gym.
7. If it isn’t the right fit, keep looking.
Remember that you are choosing a person that may potentially notice a problem that saves your life or the life of one of your family members, so if you aren’t comfortable, keep looking. On that same note, while bedside manner is important, when choosing a new doctor ask yourself if you would rather have a bad doctor with a great personality or brilliant doctor who is a jerk? I think we all would take the jerk. Hopefully you can find someone with the best of both worlds, but always err on the side of professional competence.
8. Is my doctor part of something bigger?
Integrated healthcare models such as patient centered medical homes (PCMH) are becoming more and more common in the evolving healthcare landscape, and it is worth asking if the doctor you are considering is part of a larger integrated healthcare system. Doctors that are part of systems like this usually have electronic health records and more resources available for monitoring patients and managing chronic conditions effectively. Plus, if you find yourself needing a specialist or spending time in the hospital you’ll notice that everyone is on the same page in regards to your care, which is what you want.
Healthcare isn’t always simple, but if you put a bit of work in on the front end to find a competent family doctor and commit to understanding how your insurance works, it will save you considerable headaches in the future. When you or one of your family members falls ill is not when you want to be deciding if you have a competent doctor or if something is covered or not. Be happy and healthy!
Dorothy Wheaton, PA-C, is the lead clinical provider for Careworks Convenient Healthcare, a US company operating retail health clinics and urgent care centers in the Northeast United States.
Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want a good primary care doctor.