The letter arrived out of the blue like a notice from the IRS about an upcoming audit. The letter went something like this:
Dear Valued Patient,
Dr. Williams is no longer with our organization. Attached to this letter are the names of 10 providers that you can access for follow-up care in our organization.
Bam! That was it, the cord was cut and my friend was set adrift in a shifting medical ocean without a trusted provider. Just. Like. That.
Doctors burn out. Doctors leave health systems for another gig. Doctors move to other cities. You move to another city. Sometimes doctors actually retire. Some move to other medical jobs, just not seeing patients, such as reviewing medical claims for insurance companies. Some patients move insurance plans and must change networks. HMO networks may change. Moving from regular Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan might put you into a different network.
Whatever the reason your trusted doctor leaves you, when you are faced with finding a new healthcare provider—whether you choose to move or the doctor moves—you can follow some smart guidelines to find Dr. Right. Let me offer some guidance.
Follow up with the ten providers your healthcare system offered you. Check their credentials on the website of the health system. See where they trained. Their specialties. How long they have been a physician. How long with the particular health system. Then do the exercise in this next bullet point.
Every state medical society has a list of healthcare providers and their credentials. At a minimum, “board certification” indicates that the provider has had formal training and has passed an examination for that designation. Not all doctors have earned this designation. This does not imply competence but it does imply that at least the provider has had additional training.
Decide if it matters to you whether the doctor is male or female. Female physicians often spend more time with patients, according to some research studies. You might want to look at the age of the doctor choices. Is a younger doctor your preference? Older physicians may retire too.
Ask your friends and colleagues, people at work, neighbors, and family members who they go to and if they would recommend their physician. Word of mouth is often the best way to narrow your choices, but please don’t rely on apps like Next Door or social media like Facebook to ask about docs because you don’t know who is responding. These apps and social media are fine to find a used car but not a doctor.
Practical issues cannot be ignored. Parking, office hours, a patient portal for following up on consultations and reviewing your own records. Are locations convenient for you? Does a physician you might consider see patients at a clinic closer to your work? Is the local clinic affiliated with a major medical center?
As you narrow your list and maybe some names keep cropping up, make an appointment to just meet the doctor, with your clothes on. Tell the scheduler your intention: “My physician is no longer practicing [or is not in my network or has moved], and Dr. Dolittle has come to mind as a potential fit for me. I’d like to set up a short visit to meet the doctor.”
There is no substitute for that face-to-face encounter and a quick visit with the provider. The understanding from all parties is that this is not a formal consultation but a “meet and greet.” Is the chemistry positive, is there a good vibe to the practice? Take a short list of questions about the practice (not about your specific medical needs): How can I reach help after hours? Which hospital do you send patients to? Can I get same-day appointments if I’m sick? Ask what is relevant to you.
Get on the patient portal and download your relevant medical records. If you leave one network, you may not be assured access to your records as easily. You are always privy to your records. It’s the law. But getting them from a previous health system may be more red tape than you want to negotiate. On the other hand, some health systems talk to others in a community. This would be a question to add to your list to ask your current health system: If I leave HealthCare, Inc., and see a physician at Wellness Center, will I still be able to get to my patient portal, or will my new provider be able to see my medical records? That’s a yes or no answer. If the answer is no, then ask, How can I download my records now?
Welcome to the age of the empowered patient. I have more tips and sound advice on finding a new provider or researching an appropriate specialist in my book, How NOT to Be My Patient, available on Amazon. You must be your own best advocate to traverse this changing healthcare scene.