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How to change your primary care doctor — things to consider

Written by 
Jennifer Co

Article at a glance

  • Some people believe that they should only go see a doctor if they’re sick, but prevention is an important part of managing your health. To learn more about why primary care is essential, read this section.

  • Sometimes, your primary care doctor is no longer able to provide for your medical needs. To learn more about how to leave your current primary care provider, read this section.

There are many reasons you might change your current primary care physician. To learn more about why you might consider switching doctors, read this section.

While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.” This quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, shows the importance of maintaining our health — and how it’s mostly in our control. You can help keep yourself healthy through primary care, which is often your first point of contact in the healthcare system. However, finding and keeping the right primary care physician can be difficult. There are many factors to consider, such as personal preference, availability, and accessibility. The process itself can be a little daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. We’ll talk about what primary care is, why it’s important, and what circumstances might make you consider changing to a new primary care doctor.

A primary care physician (also known as PCP, primary care doctor, or primary care provider) is a medical doctor that specializes in family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics. They’re the first doctors you’ll see and are responsible for continuing your primary care. This type of care is varied and may be centered on short-term conditions (like managing bronchitis), long-term conditions (such as treating high blood pressure or diabetes), or preventive measures (like annual check-ups, blood work, and immunizations). A PCP is specifically trained to carry out these services, as opposed to specialists, who focus on a particular field of medicine. A primary care doctor is also responsible for coordinating other health care services for your treatment.

What reasons might make me consider changing my primary care doctor?

There are many reasons why you may want to consider going to a new primary care doctor, and sometimes they may be out of your control. No matter what your circumstances are, there are no binding rules that require you to stay with your current doctor — and the decision to leave is completely up to you. Below are some of the reasons why you might consider changing your primary care provider.

Change in location

Moving to a new city or state is one of the main reasons you might change doctors. When looking for a PCP, it’s important that their office is convenient for you. Although some practices also offer services like online scheduling, telemedicine (also called e‑visits), and online access to your health records, having your doctor within easy physical access comes in handy, especially if you’d rather have a consultation in person.

Your current primary care physician is leaving

Sometimes, it may not be you who’s changing locations, but your doctor. Maybe they’re retiring, or taking their practice elsewhere. It can be difficult when this happens, especially if you have already formed a good relationship with them. It may be stressful as well, because it feels like you have to start all over. But you can help ease this anxiety by getting ahold of your medical files and organizing them. You can then start to research other doctors in your area who can fit your needs.

Changes in insurance

Not all primary care doctors are part of an insurance program, and not all of them are affiliated with hospitals. It’s also not uncommon for doctors to add or drop insurance plans. You may consider changing your primary care physician if your insurance plan changes for any reason (e.g., financial, work-related, because of your marital status), or if your current primary care doctor decides to drop your insurance plan. You can find out whether your network covers a certain doctor by looking at your insurer’s directory or website. 

Your decision can also be affected if you have a preferred hospital. You might want a doctor who is affiliated with your medical center of choice and has admitting privileges. This way they’ll be able to provide you with continuing care in a hospital where you’re comfortable. You can still see your doctor even if they aren’t part of your insurance plan, but it will cost more as you’ll be paying out of pocket. But if you really want to stay with your current doctor and be able to use your insurance to pay for their services, you can ask their office what plans they accept and you can change into one of those instead.

You’re not getting the care you need

Availability and competency are important practical factors that you want to consider with your primary care doctor. If your current doctor is overloaded with patients and you find yourself having to schedule appointments that are months away, or if you feel as though the care you’re receiving falls short of your needs, it may be time to switch doctors. Or it could also be that your medical needs change. For example, developing a long-term condition like diabetes or high blood pressure requires regular visits to the doctor. Patients with these conditions might want a primary care doctor who has open, flexible schedules. On the other hand, those with fewer health issues may not be as limited by a doctor’s availability. 

If you’re starting to have doubts about the way your current doctor is treating you, it may help to check whether they’re board-certified by searching certificationmatters.org. Board certification ensures that certain standards are met for specific medical specialties, such as internal medicine. Maintaining board certification also means your doctor is updated on the latest developments in their field. Knowing this may help you feel more confident about their decisions, but if you’re still not sure, you may want to start looking for a new doctor.

You don’t have a good relationship with them

People have different personalities, and sometimes you just don’t feel comfortable with a certain primary care provider. In fact, more than half of Americans consider a doctor’s personality when choosing a physician. It’s crucial that you trust and like your primary care doctor. Establishing a good relationship with them is important for your overall health. Even if you initially had a good relationship with your doctor, one bad incident can be enough to make a dent in your relationship. Aside from the doctor, you should also look at the office staff. They’re in charge of a lot of the technical aspects of your care, such as scheduling your appointments, addressing insurance issues, and relaying your messages to the doctor. Because healthcare is a team effort, a good doctor with a bad staff (or vice versa) can still make your visits unpleasant. On the other hand, a good doctor with an efficient, welcoming staff can improve your overall experience. 

Remember that your primary care doctor is a partner in your care — their goal is to keep you healthy. That’s why it’s important to find a primary care provider that meets your standards, suits your needs, and with whom you can build a good relationship for years to come. If you’re looking to change your primary care physician, here are 13 tips on how to choose the right one for you.

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