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How to Find Dr. Right

Your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important in your life. You should be able to trust your doctor with your most private health issues or problems and should feel certain he or she is your ally.

You may need to choose a new doctor if your current one stops participating in your health insurance plan or no longer satisfies your particular needs.

Steps to take

The following suggestions can help you find a new doctor who's right for you:

  • Look for a doctor when you're healthy. When ill or in pain, you won't have the time or energy to carefully gather information about the qualifications or qualities of a new doctor.

  • Gather names from several sources. Begin by asking your employer or health insurance representative for a list of primary care doctors in your plan. In most cases, your out-of-pocket expenses will be less if you choose a participating doctor. Follow up by asking coworkers, friends, or relatives if they would recommend or advise against any of the doctors on the list.

  • Check each doctor's credentials. Call your local state medical or osteopathic board. It provides basic professional information on virtually every licensed medical or osteopathic doctor in your state. The listing includes the medical school the doctor attended and any postgraduate training.

  • Make an appointment. Before you decide on a doctor, make an appointment with one who looks promising. This meeting will help you determine whether you're comfortable with the doctor, the support staff, and the facilities. Keep in mind that, as a new patient, it may take you longer to get in to see the doctor. Insurance won't pay for a doctor's visit that's not for a checkup or for a health problem, so you should schedule the visit with the intent of establishing care.

What to ask

During the visit, ask the following questions:

  • How can I reach you in an emergency?

  • Is it always necessary to make an appointment, or will you or a nurse answer routine questions over the phone?

  • Who provides care for your patients in your absence?

  • Has a medical specialty board certified you? If so, in what specialty area?

  • At what hospitals do you have privileges? (Make sure the hospital is covered by your insurance.)

Board certification indicates that doctors are highly trained in the specialty they practice. They've had three or more years of training beyond medical school, practiced that specialty for a specified number of years, and passed an examination. To remain certified, doctors must attend continuing medical education programs throughout their careers.

Rate your visit

Afterward, assess your visit. After following the steps above, ask yourself: Was I treated courteously by the doctor and the office staff? Were all of my questions answered? Did I feel rushed or dismissed? Do I agree with the doctor's office policies and wellness philosophy?

If not satisfied, check with your insurer to see if you can visit another doctor without  paying the full cost of the visit.

Give the doctor a try. Just as every doctor has a different style, every patient has different needs. Therefore, it's important to have a trial period with your prospective doctor to make sure you're comfortable, have clear lines of communication, and receive excellent care.

If you're not happy with the doctor, resume your search.