When you’re heading to the doctor once a year for a check-up, all you need is a GP who can handle the basics. Bedside manner? Specialty practice? That’s not nearly as important for the occasional sick visit as it is if you’re in and out of your physician’s office constantly with a chronic condition.
If you’re living with a chronic illness, symptom management is essential in staying as healthy and active as you possibly can. Your normal might not be the same as everyone else’s, but with a good team of primary and specialty care doctors on your side, you can maintain a high quality of life that lets you live the way you want to.
But first, you need to figure out how to find the right doctors in the first place. This guide will show you exactly how to do it in as little time as possible. Because really, when we’re talking about serious diseases, a week or two can make all the difference.
Read on for everything you need to know as you hunt for the best doctor for your situation.
Step 1. Read your health insurance policy
Finances are what keep many chronic patients from seeing their doctors (and taking prescribed medications) as often as they need to. Since you’re going to need to make the most of your health insurance policy every year, it pays to figure out the fine print—and to review it annually for any changes.
Pay attention to copays for primary care and specialist doctors (they can be different), deductibles for care and for prescription drugs, co-insurance requirements and your out-of-pocket maximum.
Step 2. Ask for doctor recommendations
Your primary care doctor might have a specialist in mind who would be a good fit for your condition and your personality. Go ahead and ask if they have a doc they think you’ll like. The same goes for any friends you have who are living with similar chronic illnesses.
Starting from scratch? If you need a primary care doctor, too, begin your hunt by asking friends and even coworkers for the names of GPs they use. If you’re in the process of moving to a new area, it doesn’t hurt to ask your current doctors if they have any contacts in your new locale, either.
Step 3. Research the recommended doctors
Once you have a list of doctors, the first thing you should do is pull up your health insurance company’s database of in-network doctors and search for every name you’ve collected. While you can see a doctor that’s out-of-network, it will cost you more money. How much more depends on your insurance policy. Some will cover part of out-of-network visits, but many won’t.
If there isn’t an in-network specialist for your chronic illness, you might be able to get an out-of-network physician approved. Call your insurance company for details on that, as the process will vary.
After you’ve crossed out the doctors your insurance won’t pay for, pull up Google and do a search for each doctor. Read reviews from other patients, taking note of any bedside manner complaints, malpractice cases, specialties, accreditations, education and languages spoken.
Step 4. Pick a doctor
On paper, a lot of doctors can look the same. That’s why recommendations from people you know as well as patient reviews are so helpful. Pay attention to the details they include and if their complaints (or raves) are one-offs comments or themes that appear repeatedly.
What’s worth bonus points? Location is a big one. If an office is more convenient to your home or your workplace, making it to appointments will be easier.
Also, keep in mind hospital affiliations. Some health insurance plans cover some hospitals but not others. You can find out which hospitals are in-network for you by calling your insurance company. This can be important if your chronic illness tends to require hospital stays. If your new doctor is affiliated with a certain hospital you’re admitted to, they’ll be able to come in and check on your care while you’re there.
Step 5. Make an appointment
With your No. 1 doctor selected, it’s time to make the call. While you’re on the phone with the receptionist, you can also get a feel for how the office is run. Questions you might want to ask include:
- Does the doctor have same-day or emergency appointments available for existing patients?
- How long do patients normally wait to see the doctor?
- What sorts of cases or conditions make up the bulk of the doctor’s practice?
- Will you always be able to see your doctor, or will you possibly be seeing nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants or other doctors in the practice?
- Can you have bloodwork done in the office, or will you need to go to a lab at a different location?
- Will the office bill your health insurance company directly?
- Do they keep electronic records?
- If you’re put on hold, take note of the wait or hold times, too.
Step 6. Take your doctor for a test drive
Consider your first appointment with a new GP or specialist to be something of a job interview. Now is the time to talk through your diagnosis, your symptoms and your history. You’ll want to inquire about treatment plans this new doctor recommends, any alternative therapies or general wellness practice they suggest, and what the path forward might look like. Air your concerns and ask any questions you have.
If you’re not thrilled with the fit, remember: One appointment doesn’t necessarily seal the deal.
Finding the right doctor for you is often a case of trial and error. While it might not be worthwhile to hop on the MD merry-go-round for every individual you see annually, it pays off for those doctors you see regularly. Good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Brenda Kimble is a full-time caregiver at a senior living facility in Austin, TX. In her spare time, she enjoys writing and connecting with others in her field. Outside of work, Brenda loves doing yoga, completing new DIY projects around her home, as well as spending time with her husband and three children.