Mrs. Wiley had a big surprise the other day when she called her doctor's office to make an appointment. The receptionist told her that Dr. Horowitz was retiring at the end of the year. After all these years of care, Mrs. Wiley felt like she was losing a trusted friend. Dr. Horowitz had treated her strep throat, bladder infections, and that nasty sprained wrist. He even helped her through menopause. Mrs. Wiley worried that she wouldn't be able to find a new doctor she'd like.
There are many reasons why you might be looking for a new doctor. Maybe you've moved to another city or perhaps your doctor is retiring. If you need a new doctor, the following ideas can help you find one who is right for you.
Your primary care doctor is the doctor you usually see for general health problems. When choosing a new doctor, you need to decide if you want this doctor to be a general or family practitioner, an internist, or a geriatrician.
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. You might ask questions such as:
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. Online resources, like the website www.healthfinder.gov, may be useful too.
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 in case your first choice is not taking new patients or does not participate in your health insurance plan.
If you belong to a managed care plan, like a Medicare Advantage Plan, your choice of doctors may be limited to those who participate in your plan. If you choose a doctor outside your health insurance plan, you will have to pay a bigger share of your medical costs. Your plan's membership services office can give you a list of available doctors. For information about Medicare benefits, you can call the toll-free Medicare hotline at 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE). Information about Medicare plans, who is eligible, how to enroll, and more is available online at www.medicare.gov
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 they take, if they file the insurance claims for you, what types of payment they accept, and the hospitals where the doctor sends patients.
You might say, "Before I make an appointment, I have some questions about the office and the practice." Some questions you might want to ask are:
It might be helpful to learn about the doctor's experience treating older patients or people with a medical history similar to yours. Here are more questions you might want to ask the office staff:
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 your 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 the dosage you take, such as 20 mg once a day. You might even put all your drugs in a bag and bring them with you to the appointment. Also, write down any drug allergies or serious drug reactions you've had. You will need to give all your drug information to the doctor to include in your medical record.
During the visit, take time to ask the doctor any questions you have about your health. You might want to write these questions down before your visit so you don't forget them. Some questions you may want to ask include:
During your first appointment, the doctor or nurse is likely to ask you questions about your current health and the medical history of your family. This information will also be added to your medical record.
After your first visit, think about if you felt comfortable and confident with this doctor. For example, were you at ease asking questions? Did the doctor clearly answer your questions? Were you treated with respect? Did you feel that your questions were considered thoughtfully? 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, your job is not finished. Make sure to 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 important to maintaining this partnership, treating your medical problems effectively, and keeping you in good health.
Here are some helpful resources:
American Academy of Family Physicians
American College of Physicians
190 North Independence Mall West
Philadelphia, PA 19106-1572
American Geriatrics Society
40 Fulton Street, 18th Floor
New York, NY 10038
American Medical Association
515 North State Street
Chicago, IL 60654
American Osteopathic Association
142 East Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60611-2864
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
7500 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21244-1850
P.O. Box 1133
Washington, DC 20013-1133
For more information on health and aging, including information on talking with your doctor and Medicare basics, contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. The website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
NIH...Turning Discovery into Health ®
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Publication Date: March 2012
Page Last Updated: August 10, 2012