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Finding a Doctor near you

Updated on October 12, 2008

It is Important to Find the Right Doctor

It is always a good idea to locate and line up a doctor before you need one, especially if you have young children as you will generally need the services of a doctor sooner or later with young children.

There are usually four common reasons for needing to find a new doctor:

1 You have to change doctors because of a move to a new city.

2 Your present doctor is moving or retiring.

3 Your doctor no longer accepts your current health plan; OR you or, more likely your employer, have changed health plans and your current doctor is not a participant in that plan.

4 You are no longer satisfied with your present doctor and wish to change.

Before you begin looking for a new doctor, check your medical plan to see if it is an HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) or a Preferred Provider insurance plan. If it is an HMO, about all you can do is talk to the HMO and see if they can assign you to a new primary care physician as HMOs do not let you select physicians outside their group if you want them to pay for your medical services.

If you have a preferred provider plan, then you should first check either the paper directory they sent to you or, if they list doctors on their web site, the plan's web site to look for the list of physicians approved by the insurance company. These approved physicians are approved in the sense that they have agreed to charge patients using a fee schedule provided by the insurance company. The company has fee agreements with these physicians and, if you use one of these physicians, your co-pay will be lower. You can still use any doctor you want and continue to be covered by the insurance, it is just that your co-pay will be higher if you use a physician not on the insurance company's list.

If your current doctor is moving (either out of town or to a new practice not on your insurance company's list) or retiring you can ask your current doctor to suggest a new doctor for you. This, of course, assumes that you are happy with and trust your current doctor. Similarly, if you are changing doctors because of a change in your health plan, you could show your present doctor the approved doctors on your new provider's list and ask for his/her opinion on which ones you should consider.

If you are new in town or are not satisfied with your present doctor you could ask friends or co-workers for suggestions. If you have no one to turn to for referrals and advice, you can go on line and use one of the doctor rating or referral services. I have listed six on line referral/rating services in the Links module below. All except the ratemds.com site provide background information along with ratings but charge for their services. The ratemds.com is free but appears to be run by the same outfit that hosts ratemyprofessor.com (for rating college professors) and ratemyteacher.com (for rating K-12 teachers) so the ratings are pretty much the personal opinions/preferences of their existing patients who know about and use this site and, as such, the ratings should be taken with a “grain of salt” as they may not be representative of the doctor's patients as a whole. However, there is certainly nothing wrong with taking the information from this site into consideration with other information.

Once you have found one or more potential doctors from your insurance company's list you should call them to see if they are still taking new patients. If they are, and you decide to use that doctor, you can then go to Google maps, Yahoo maps, Mapquest.com or any of the other on line map services, enter your address and the doctor's address and receive, free, a map and driving directions from your home or office to the doctor's office.

If you do not have insurance or, if you have insurance and don't care about saving on the co-payment you can check the yellow pages (print or on line version) to get a list of physicians in your area and their locations. Another option would be to go to Google Local (Google.com, then click on more, click on even more, click on local and then enter the word doctor or physician in the box for business and your city and state) to have Google give you a list of doctors in your area. You can then click on individual doctors to get address, phone number, web site, email and directions. You can also call the local medical society for a list of doctors in the area. Unless you have friends or co-workers who are familiar with any of these doctors and can give you an opinion on them, about your only other option is to call and try to interview the doctor yourself to determine if this is a doctor you would be comfortable with. This is not that uncommon as, unless the doctor is not taking new patients, the doctor is in business and would be looking for additional patients.

I have used the generic term doctor throughout this article to give directions for finding a general practitioner. If you are looking for a specialist simply substitute the specialty (urologist, cardiologist, etc.) for doctor and follow the directions I have described for finding a general practitioner.

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