Dim lights. Sticky magazines. Unbearable wait times. Rushed appointments.
If you face any of these at your primary care doctor's office, it means patients aren't a priority. So it's time to ditch your doctor.
But finding a new physician isn't easy. We're in the middle of a huge shortage of primary care doctors. According to a 2016 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges, we could lose as many as 100,000 doctors in the next seven years. And a third of those are primary care doctors. For many of us, those are the folks we need to see any time we aren't feeling well – we need them for prescriptions and, for many plans, referrals too.
My team and I have had plenty of experience with finding doctors and knowing when it's time to switch.
One of the biggest signs that it's time to go is when your doctor won't listen. If he won't listen to you or dismisses your symptoms without any follow-up questions, it's time to get another doctor. Remember, you're paying him for his time – be sure to get what you need from him.
This goes along with my advice to be your own advocate. You might remember my mother's story... She received the wrong medication while in the hospital. She knew the pills she received looked wrong, but no one believed her. It took a lot of arguing before the hospital admitted it made a mistake.
The same attitude extends to your primary care doctor. If he can't explain things to you or he gets your information wrong, fire him immediately.
And don't let your doctor argue with you about a second opinion. In difficult diagnoses, particularly for cancer, always get a second doctor to confirm. If your own doctor doesn't like you going elsewhere for backup, ditch him.
Another thing that makes me upset: doctors you can't reach. You should never have to wait months for an appointment or be left in the waiting room long past your appointment time. This happened to my assistant once – after waiting more than an hour past her appointment time, she went back to the exam room. But then no one came to see her. She wound up calling the front desk from her cellphone. Turns out, they forgot she was in there. That was the first and last time she ever saw that doctor.
You want a doctor who makes himself available to you. That includes phone and e-mail access. Many practices now offer online portals where you can make appointments and ask non-urgent questions. It's a great feature if you just want to request a prescription refill or ask a simple question.
Having clear communication with your doctor is vital to maintaining your health. Although you should be your own, most fierce advocate, it shouldn't be a battle to get tests or referrals. If you find yourself not getting along with your doctor, here are some tips for finding a new one.
How to Find a New Doctor
1. Try your insurance company. The easiest way to find a doctor that takes your insurance is to log onto your insurance company's website. It should also include information on whether the physician is accepting new patients. Even so, be sure to ask when you call if that doctor still takes your form of insurance. Another way to go – if you find a doctor through word of mouth, call and ask about insurance first, before scheduling an appointment.
2. Check out the staff. Your first interaction will tell you a lot. If the front desk staff are helpful and friendly, it bodes well for a well-run practice. Similarly, ask if the doctor has anyone else helping, like a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner (nurses with the authority to write prescriptions). Sometimes these folks can write prescriptions or even see you for some checkups if the doctor's behind.
3. Check out the connections. You can find out which hospitals the doctor has visitation in – then check ratings here.
What's more, ask about the referral process. Does the doctor refer in-house (if it's a large, hospital-tied practice) or will he help you find someone who also accepts your insurance?
4. Interact with him. Book an appointment and see how he treats you. Sometimes you might just not get along with a doctor, which is reason enough to switch. Getting the best care is more important than hurt feelings.
For instance, I know one couple that had the same primary care doctor. While the wife got on well with him, the doctor joked around a bit too much for her husband. He wanted a more serious, straightforward doctor and found another at the same practice easily.
5. Check out the boards. Board certification is critical for any practicing physician. Find out about your new doctor's certifications right here.
We also recommend using a program like Administrators in Medicine to find any claims or disciplinary actions against your doctor. You can find more on that here.
Finding the right doctor means finding someone who is available and able to explain things well. If you've had an experience finding a new doctor, let us know how it went. Drop us a line at [email protected].
What We're Reading...
- Consumer Reports' guide on finding a good doctor.
- How to find out about malpractice claims.
- Something different: Turns out we ate bread before we farmed grain.
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
July 19, 2018