For the past two decades of your life, you’ve seen the same doctor—yes, the one who once covered your shots with Hello Kitty Band-Aids, treated your bout of the chicken pox and helped you understand your PMS episodes. Suffice to say, you’ve developed a close relationship with your pediatrician over the years—but as you get older, your medical needs change. Pediatricians will treat patients up to 21 years of age (but some may treat them into college), and after that point, it becomes time to find a new doctor who’s trained to deal with adults.
Although it seems like a daunting task to change doctors, once you’re informed and you understand your health care and insurance options, you’ll be able to make the choice that’s best for you. Here’s everything you need to know about finding a big-girl doctor!
Before making an appointment with a new doctor, however, do confirm with the doctor’s office that they accept your insurance—and call your insurance company to confirm whom your primary care physician (PCP) of choice is. Insurance companies often require a PCP and may assign one to you automatically, so be sure it’s clear to both you and your insurance company who your PCP is.
1. Word of mouth
One of the easiest ways to find a new doctor is to ask for recommendations from people you know and trust. If you’re still on your parents’ health insurance and live in the same city as they do, switching to their primary care doctor is a reliable way to transition to a new doctor. Call the office and see if the doctor is taking new patients—it’s as easy as that!
If you’ve moved to a new city and you get health insurance through your job, ask coworkers whom they suggest. They’re likely all on the same health insurance as you are, and they may know doctors in the area whom they love (or maybe not love so much). They’ll be able to give you the lowdown, and you can make your decision from there.
2. Your health insurance’s website
Visiting your insurance company’s website is a good place to start your search because you can immediately find out which hospitals accept your health insurance. You can usually refine your search by location, specialty and, in some cases, patient ratings as well. Most of the time, you can also see whether a specific doctor is taking new patients or not, so you won’t need to spend time calling every single doctor you’re interested in just to find out if they’re accepting patients.
3. Online search tools
In the age of the Internet, there’s an easy way to browse tons of doctors in your area from the comfort of your own (grownup!) apartment. Check out our favorite online tools below!
With ZocDoc, you can easily search doctors in your area by location and specialty. You can even filter based on your health insurance (or search all, if you don’t have insurance or you want to see every option) as well as note other factors, such as whether you want a male or female doctor and what the exact reason of your visit is. The search brings up doctors, their appointment availabilities and their ratings, which are all verified—as in, you know the reviews are made by patients who have seen that doctor. When you’re ready to book, select your time, enter your patient information and you’re all set!
Similar to ZocDoc, Patient Fusion also offers online booking and verified reviews, so you can trust the ratings associated with each doctor. The best thing about this site is that it’s a part of Practice Fusion, a medical records program for doctors, so having an account with Patient Fusion also means it’s easy to access your own health records online.
If you’re looking for reviews only, Vitals is the place to go. You can either search for a specific doctor by name or browse doctors by specialty or location to get an overview of whom you might be interested in visiting. You can filter based on insurance as well so you’re only looking at doctors whom you know will accept your insurance.
If you’re booking online, it’s a good idea to call the doctor’s office anyway just to double check that they accept your insurance so you aren’t surprised with an unexpected bill at the end of your visit.
4. Lower-cost healthcare centers
If you aren’t insured, there are other options for health care that you can consider! You might not want to settle with a PCP without insurance (it’s expensive and you might need to switch once again once you do get insurance), so opt for one of these alternatives instead. Look up urgent-care clinics in your area, as they can usually treat any standard ailments at a more budget-friendly price; many operate under a sliding-scale policy, meaning the cost will be proportional to your income.
If you need women’s healthcare, check with your local Planned Parenthood. Different locations offer different services, but you’ll be able to get your annual exam and other women’s health issues taken care of. While fees may differ at various locations, most services are charged on a sliding scale as well.
Looking for specialty services, such as an eye doctor or a dentist? If your local university has a dental school, for example, they’ll often offer low-cost visits conducted by students (don’t worry, they’re supervised by real doctors and dentists!).
Lastly, if you just need a quick consultation or a vaccine, drugstores like Walgreens will have certain locations that offer basic primary care checkups at lower, fixed costs.
5. Specialist recommendations from your primary care physician
So, you finally found your primary care physician. A primary care physician should be able to provide you with care for a wide range of health problems, but there will be times when you’ll want to see a specialist. Most of the time, your PCP will give you a referral (and he or she will suggest doctors!) if there’s something he or she isn’t able to help you with. Depending on your insurance plan (or the specialty), you may need a referral. In cases where you don’t need a referral, your best bet is to browse the sites we mentioned in tip number three and go through ratings to make sure the doctor meets both your needs and standards.
What do you do if you don’t like your new doctor?
It’s hard to “break up” with your doctor, but it may be necessary. If your doctor rushes through your appointment, misdiagnoses you, sends you away when you’re still in pain or makes rude comments to you, you need to switch doctors.
George Blackall, Psy.D. and author of Breaking the Cycle: How to Turn Conflict Into Collaboration When You and Your Patients Disagree, says that “the most common complaint when these conflicts arise is that people feel like they’re not being heard or understood.” It’s important for your doctor to understand you, but there may be conflicts that can’t be settled. How to tell if you should make the change?
"If you feel in your heart that you’ve given your best effort to build a partnership with your physician and it hasn't happened, then it's time to move on,” Blackall says.
It’s not worth staying with a doctor you don’t like, and, fortunately, there are many ways to find a doctor that you trust and can develop a good relationship with. Lois Margaret Nora, president and CEO of the American Board of Medical Specialties, says that “people should expect quality in their doctor and the system in which the physician practices.” If you aren’t happy with your current doctor, don’t be afraid to make the change! When you find another PCP you’re interested in, notify your insurance company and call your former doctor to have any records transferred to your new office.
See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now it’s time to make an appointment! Before you see your new doctor, be sure to have your previous doctor send over your medical history—this way, your new doctor can know about you and how he or she can help you on your first visit.
Since you’re on your way to making the transition from a pediatrician to a primary care physician, it’s safe to you’re officially grown up. Your real-world doctor will help you stay healthy from your 20s to old age… even though you might be nostalgic for those Hello Kitty Band-Aids.