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For Seniors: Choosing a New Doctor

You may have had the same doctor for years. Even so, a time may come when he or she retires or your health plan changes and the doctor is not with the new program.

Whatever the reason for needing a new primary care doctor, the following suggestions from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) can help you find the right doctor.

Questions to consider

In choosing a doctor, here are some issues to think about:

  • Is he or she board certified? Board-certified doctors have and have voluntarily taken, and passed, an examination by their national professional organization. Information on doctors in some states is available on the Internet. This website is run by Administrators in Medicine, a group of state medical board directors.

  • Does the doctor accept your health insurance? Does the doctor accept Medicare predetermined payments? (This is also called accepting "Medicare assignment.")

  • Does the doctor listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and explain things clearly and fully?

  • Is the doctor's office easy for you to get to?

  • Is the hospital the doctor uses on your insurance plan?

  • Is lab work done at the doctor's office or somewhere else?

  • Will the office staff process medical insurance claims for you?

Type of doctor

For your primary care doctor, you can choose from the following:

  • General and family practitioners provide health care for a wide range of medical problems.

  • Internists provide treatment for adults. Some internists train to become specialists.

  • Geriatricians specialize in the care of older adults.

Although women sometimes list an obstetrician/gynecologist as their primary health care provider, these doctors are not trained to treat most chronic and acute medical problems of older adults.

Medicare matters

Many people ages 65 and older use Medicare's original fee-for-service health insurance program. Under this program, you may see any doctor or health care provider you choose. You usually pay Medicare's deductible and coinsurance, along with any other charges not covered by Medicare. Medicare pays the rest.

Another option is a Medicare managed-care plan. When you enroll in a managed-care plan, you choose your doctor from a list of network doctors. Your primary care doctor then coordinates all your health care needs. For information about these benefits, visit Medicare.

Medicare also offers a doctor locator.  

The next step

Ask friends, coworkers, and other health care professionals for doctor recommendations, the NIA says. When you have the names of several doctors you think fit your needs, call their offices. Ask for information about each doctor's education and training, as well as office policies and hours. You can make an appointment to meet with a doctor before deciding, but you will probably have to pay for this type of visit.

When you have selected a doctor, it's time to make your first medical appointment. At this initial visit, the doctor will probably take down your medical history and do a physical exam, the NIA says. Bring any medical records with you, or have them sent to the office beforehand. Bring a list of all medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, vitamins, and eye drops.

It's important to cultivate a good doctor-patient relationship. Both you and your doctor must work together to help maintain your health. That means following your doctor's advice, as well as being open with medical concerns you have. Good communication with your doctor and the office staff is important.