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For Seniors: Choosing a New Doctor

For Seniors: Choosing a New Doctor

You may have had the same doctor for years. But a time may come when he or she retires. Or your health plan may change and the doctor is not in the new program.

When you need a new primary care doctor, keep the following suggestions in mind. They are from the National Institute on Aging.

Doctor talking with patient

What to think about

When looking for a new doctor, here are some things to consider:

  • Is he or she board certified? Board-certified doctors have passed a test by their national professional group. You can find this information online about doctors in some states. The Administrators in Medicine offer this website.

  • Does the doctor take your health insurance? Does the doctor take Medicare? (This is also called taking "Medicare assignment.")

  • Does the doctor listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and explain things clearly and fully?

  • Is the doctor's office easy for you to get to?

  • Is the hospital the doctor uses on your insurance plan?

  • Is lab work done at the doctor's office or somewhere else?

  • Will the office staff take care of medical insurance claims for you?

  • Is this doctor part of a group of doctors?

  • What portion of the practice is older adults?

Type of doctor

For your primary care doctor, you can choose one of these:

  • General or family practitioner. This doctor gives health care for a wide range of health problems.

  • Internist. This doctor gives treatment to adults. Some internists train to become specialists.

  • Geriatrician. This is a doctor with special training to care for older adults.

Keep in mind that an obstetrician/gynecologist is not trained to treat most long- or short-term health problems of older adults.

Medicare matters

Many people ages 65 and older use Medicare's original fee-for-service health insurance program. Under this program, you may see any doctor or health care provider you choose. You usually pay Medicare's deductible and coinsurance. You also pay any other charges not covered by Medicare. Medicare pays the rest.

Another choice is a Medicare managed-care plan. When you enroll in a managed-care plan, you choose your doctor from a list of doctors. Your primary care doctor then manages all your health care needs. For information about these benefits, visit Medicare.

Medicare also offers a doctor locator.  

The next step

You can ask friends, coworkers, and other health care staff for their recommendations. When you have the names of several doctors you think fit your needs, call their offices. Ask for information about each doctor's education and training. Also ask about office policies and hours. It’s important to know how long it takes to get an appointment. Can you get a same-day appointment if you are sick? You can make an appointment to meet with a doctor before deciding, but you will probably have to pay for this visit.

When you have picked a doctor, it's time to make your first appointment. At this first visit, the doctor will probably take down your health history and do a physical exam. Bring any health records with you. Or have them sent to the office before your visit. Call before your appointment to be sure the office has them. Bring a list of all medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, vitamins, and eye drops. Be sure to include the name and dosage of each medicine.

Both you and your doctor must work together to help you keep your health. That means following your doctor's advice, as well as being open with health concerns you have. Good communication with your doctor and the office staff is important. You should feel that the doctor is listening to you, that he or she takes your concerns into account, and that you feel comfortable with the doctor. If the first doctor is not a good fit, keep looking for one who is.

 
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