5 steps to find the right doctor

(Family Features) Whether you rarely get sick or have multiple conditions that require frequent doctor visits, having a reliable and knowledgeable health care provider is an important step in protecting your health.

A health care provider helps you stay healthy by recommending preventive services like screenings and vaccinations. He or she can deal with many issues directly and refer you to a specialist for more help with specific issues, if needed.

A number of reasons may require finding a new doctor, such as a move to a new community, changes to your insurance, the retirement of your old doctor, or the need for a specialist, for example.

Finding a healthcare provider requires careful research and consideration. These suggestions from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) can help you be more efficient and thorough when looking for a doctor that’s right for you.

Ask for recommendations

Talk to friends, family, neighbors and co-workers to find out if they have a supplier they like. Approval from someone you know can give you greater confidence that you will have a similar positive experience. If you are looking for a new provider due to relocation or retirement, you can ask your current doctor for a referral. If you need to make a change with your primary care doctor but are seeing specialists or other healthcare professionals you like and trust, you can also ask them for referrals.

Check with your insurance company

If you have health insurance, you may need to choose from a list of doctors in your plan’s network. Some insurance plans may allow you to choose a doctor outside of your network if you pay more of the cost.

To find a doctor who takes your insurance, call your insurance company and ask for a list of in-network doctors near you, or use the insurance company’s website to find a doctor. It’s also a good idea to call the doctor’s office and ask for confirmation that they are taking your plan. You should have your insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid card handy in case the office needs your plan details.

Limit your options

In addition to checking insurance coverage, you can gather information that will help you narrow down your options. Some of the providers you consider may not be viable options for simple reasons, like their practice isn’t currently taking new patients or they don’t have office hours to match your schedule. You can also consider issues such as hospital affiliations and whether other providers can help you if you need emergency care and your doctor is unavailable.

take a deeper look

Online research can tell you a lot about potential doctors, biographical information, and references to past patient reviews.

When looking for a new supplier, another important area to consider is financial relationships. One resource patients can consider is Open Payments, a national disclosure program within CMS that provides visibility into financial relationships between drug and medical device companies and physicians, and teaching hospitals. The government is requiring pharmaceutical companies, device makers and group purchasing organizations to report the funds they give to healthcare providers in the form of meals, entertainment, travel, gifts, consulting fees, research payments, etc., promoting transparency and helping to uncover potential conflicts of interest.

It is important to know that most health care providers receive payments. Just because financial ties are reported doesn’t mean someone has done anything wrong. However, patients can use this information to discuss with their provider why they are recommending certain drugs or treatments, including asking about generic options, which are just as effective as name brands but usually less expensive. It is also an opportunity to start a discussion with a provider on areas of professional interest and expertise based on research or advice.

Listen to your instincts

If you are undecided, request an introductory appointment with a provider you are considering. How you feel when interacting with the doctor and staff can tell you a lot about the suitability of the practice. Look for a clinic where you are treated with respect and where the doctor and other members of the medical team listen to your opinions and concerns. You should feel comfortable asking questions and the doctor should be able to explain things in a way you understand.

Find more resources for your healthcare needs at cms.gov.

Preparing for a first visit

A first meeting with a new supplier can be daunting. You’re meeting someone for the first time and probably have a few things to talk about. Help keep your nerves in check and get your questions answered by following these steps:

Introduce yourself. When you see the doctor and office staff, introduce yourself and let them know what name you prefer to be called by.

Ask how the office works. Find out which days are the busiest and what times it’s best to call. Ask what to do in an emergency or if you need a doctor when the office is closed.

Share your medical history. Tell the doctor about all illnesses, operations, medical conditions and other doctors you see. You may want to ask the doctor to send you a copy of the medical history form before your visit so that you can complete it at home, where you will have the time and information to complete it.

Make a list and prioritize your concerns. If you have several points to discuss, put them in order and ask for the most important ones first.

Bring information with you to the doctor. Some doctors suggest that you put all your medications in a bag and bring them with you. Others recommend bringing a written list. You should also have your insurance cards, the names and phone numbers of other doctors you see, and your medical records if the doctor doesn’t already have them.

Consider bringing a family member or friend. Your companion can remind you of what you had planned to discuss with the doctor in case you forget. He or she can also take notes for you and help you remember what the doctor said.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

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