It’s a brand new year and some of us are getting ready to schedule our doctor appointments for the next few months: primary care, optometrist, cardiologist, ear nose and throat, allergist and/or psychiatrist.
Are you in a bind because you changed your Medicare policy, got new health insurance or your doctor is retiring? Are you not sure who to call or who the best physician is to meet your needs?
In today’s post we’ll review some of the different types of doctors, how to select a one, what questions to ask and how to prepare for your first appointment.
Types of Primary Care Doctors
Your primary care doctor is the doctor you usually see for general health problems. When choosing a new doctor, you will need to decide if you want this doctor to be a general or family practitioner, an internist or a geriatrician. What’s the difference?
- General practitioners treat a wide range of medical problems in people of all ages.
- Family practitioners are similar to general practitioners, but have extra training to care for all family members, young or old.
- Internists are doctors for adults. Some internists take additional training to become specialists. For example, a cardiologist is an internist who specializes in heart disease.
- Geriatricians care for older adults. A geriatrician is trained in family practice or internal medicine, and additional training in caring for older people.
Asking Around – People and Places to Help with Your Search
Once you have a sense of what kind of doctor is best for you, ask people you trust, for example, friends, family and coworkers, about doctors they use and like. In addition to talking to friends, family and coworkers, you can talk with other health professionals you see. For example, your heart doctor or the doctor you see for your lung problems and ask for recommendations. If your doctor is retiring or leaving the practice, you might ask if he or she has picked a replacement. You can check with your insurance plan for a list of doctors in your area. Another idea is to contact a local hospital, medical center, medical society, physician referral service or nearby medical school.
After talking with people, checking with local resources and looking online you may find a few names keep coming up. These might be the doctors you want to consider. Make a list of several names of doctors to pick from in case your first choice is not taking new patients or does not participate in your health insurance.
Calling the Doctors on Your List
After you pick two or three doctors, call their offices. The office staff can give you information about the doctor’s education and training. They can also tell you about office policies, what insurance the office takes, if they file the insurance claims for you, what types of payment they accept and to what hospitals the doctor sends patients.
Here is a list of questions you should ask when calling a doctor’s office for the first time:
- What type of health insurance does the office take? You want to find out if the doctor accepts Medicare or any other health insurance you have.
- Where is the doctor’s office located? Is there parking? You want to make sure that it will be easy for you to get there.
- How long is the usual office visit? You want a doctor who will take time to listen carefully to your concerns, answer your questions and explain things clearly and fully in a way that you can understand. Good doctor-patient communication is important for developing treatment plans that address your specific health needs.
- Is the doctor a part of a group practice? If the doctor is part of a group, you may want to find out who the other doctors are and their specialties.
- Who sees patients if the doctor is out of town or not available? If the doctor is not part of a group practice, you want to make sure that the doctor has a plan when he or she is not there.
- Can I get lab work or x-rays done in the office or nearby? You want to find out if you will need to go to another location for tests or if most lab tests are done in the doctor’s office.
- Is the doctor Board certified? Board-certified doctors have extra training and pass special exams after medical school to become specialists in a field of medicine such as family practice, internal medicine or geriatrics.
The First Appointment
After choosing a doctor, make your first appointment. This visit is a time for you to get to know the doctor and for the doctor to get to know you. You will probably be asked to fill out a new-patient form. To help you, bring a list of you past medical problems and all the medicines you take. Include both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, even vitamins, supplements and eye drops. Write down any drug allergies or serious drug reactions you have had.
During the visit, take time to ask the doctor any questions you have about your health. You might want to write down these questions before your visit so you do not forget them. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- Will you give me written instructions about my care?
- May I bring a family member (spouse, daughter or son) to my office visits?
- Are you willing to talk with my family about my condition if I give my permission?
During your first appointment, the doctor or nurse will likely ask you questions about your current health and the medical history of your family. This information will be added to your medical record.
After your first visit, think about if you felt comfortable and confident with this doctor. Ask yourself if the doctor answered your questions clearly? Were you treated with respect? Did you feel the doctor hurried or did not address all your concerns? If you are still not sure the doctor is right for you, schedule a visit with one of the other doctors on your list.
Once you find a doctor you like, you job is not finished. Make sure you have your medical records sent to your new doctor. Your former doctor may charge you for mailing your records.
Remember that a good doctor-patient relationship is a partnership. Regular office visits and open communication with the doctor and office staff are key to maintaining this partnership, treating medical problems effectively and keeping you in good health.