When to Switch Doctors: Signs, Tips on Switching, & More
There are a variety of reasons patients decide to switch doctors such as insurance changes, personal relocation, the need for specific expertise, and more.
After receiving care from a certain provider or practice for many months or years, knowing where to begin when switching doctors can be overwhelming. Learn more below about the steps one can take when finding a new doctor.
With so many types of primary care doctors, it can be confusing to select the provider that’s best. But with the right questions to ask and places to search, finding a new provider is simple.
It’s fairly common for patients to switch doctors due to a plethora of reasons. According to a survey conducted by the Altarum Institute Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care, the number one reason patients decide to switch physicians is to receive “better treatment or service”. From the same survey, while 76% of physicians believe their patients are satisfied with their care, only 39% of patients claimed they truly are content with the care they’re receiving. The bottom line is, if a patient is sensing that they should switch doctors due to any personal or practical reason, chances are they should listen to themselves and find new care.
When to Switch Doctors & Why
There are a variety of reasons why patients decide to switch doctors, sometimes out of circumstance, other times for personal reasons. Some of these reasons include relocating to a new home, financial issues, a change in insurance plan, a provider’s poor communication, and many more. Whatever the means behind switching to a different provider or a different practice, the patient should know that it’s common and possible. In fact, finding more holistic care (such as a provider assisting with transportation to/from appointments, providing access to multiple services within one office, granting access to community resources, etc.) leads to improvement in overall health and wellbeing.
Change of Insurance
When patients make a change in their insurance plan, it’s important to check and see if their provider accepts their new insurance policy. If their provider doesn’t accept their new insurance, it could be time to switch doctors in order to avoid out-of-network medical costs.
Change in Healthcare Needs
Patients and their families go through shifts in healthcare needs as they continue to age and grow. These shifts could look like a patient switching from a pediatric doctor to a general practitioner, a patient switching to a geriatrician, a patient searching for a family practitioner once they have children, etc.
Pediatric Care: Most pediatricians stop seeing their patients between the ages of 18 and 21. Patients seeing a pediatrician can decide to change doctors whenever they feel comfortable doing so. When the timing is right, patients can switch to an adult primary care physician (PCP), an internist, a general practitioner, or a family medicine doctor. To learn more about these different providers and specialties, visit this source.
Geriatric Care: Around the age of 65, patients should begin to consider if their health would be better taken care of with a geriatrician. A geriatrician is a provider that has specialized training in care for older adults and in treating various geriatric medical conditions. To learn more about geriatric care, visit this source.
Depending on how far a patient chooses to relocate, moving to a new town or state may require a patient to switch providers. Prior to moving, a patient should contact their PCP to ask for any and all of their medical records so they are prepared once they find new primary care.
Need for Specific Expertise
Many physicians have interests, experience, or specialties in certain chronic conditions or health concerns. When patients reach a certain age or are diagnosed with a new medical condition, they may want to seek the care of a doctor that specializes in said age range or condition.
Provider Is Never On Time
A provider always running late for an appointment may make a patient feel that their health is not being taken seriously and that their provider is not respecting their time. In these cases, a patient may find themselves sitting in a waiting room for long periods before getting in to see the doctor. All in all, feeling disrespected and uncared for is a signal that it may be necessary to switch providers and find someone who can attend appointments in a more timely manner.
Provider Has Poor Communication
A provider with poor communication can look or feel like many different things, such as:
A provider not listening to a patient’s concerns.
The doctor appears disconnected or distracted when communicating.
The health care provider interrupts their patient.
The doctor is not making eye contact to visibly show they’re paying attention.
When a provider does not contact a patient with important results or information about their health.
A doctor doesn’t provide time for a patient to ask questions and clarify any confusion.
The provider’s office staff does not communicate well with each other.
When a patient’s primary care doctor has poor communication in any form, it can leave the patient feeling confused and disregarded. These feelings of discontent are a signal that it may be time to switch doctors.
Provider Over-Prescribes Medication
Some physicians are known to be “prescription happy”; reaching for the prescription pad before first consulting with the patient on what treatment plan they desire. A provider should always talk through a patient’s concerns, addressing each point in the problem before recommending a prescription medication. From there, they should discuss a treatment plan with the patient to ensure they’re comfortable with the next steps, the recommended medication, any potential side effects, and any alternative treatments. When a provider tends to over-prescribe, it may be a signal to patients that it’s time to switch doctors.
Poor Bedside Manner
Even if a physician and their health care team are competent caregivers, if they have no bedside manner and treat their patients poorly, it may cause a patient to leave the practice. When a provider or their staff speaks rudely to patients or treats them in a condescending or patronizing manner, it makes patients uncomfortable, thus encouraging them to switch doctors.
Provider Prevents Second Opinions or Referrals
When a PCP is stubborn when it comes to getting referrals or a second opinion, it can make patients feel trapped. A doctor that truly cares about the overall health of their patient would encourage second opinions or that their patients seek the care of other specialists in the medical field as this only enhances the care a PCP can give.
Provider’s Medical Strategies Are Outdated
When a physician and their office are outdated in their medical treatments with no sign of wanting to modernize, this could be a signal to switch providers. The medical industry is constantly growing and evolving, producing a wide variety of care and treatment options for patients. When it comes to healthcare, a patient should have the most up-to-date treatment plans made available to them and their provider should be well-versed in the latest healthcare advances.
Provider Has Been Unprofessional
If a specific provider makes their patient feel uncomfortable in any way, it may be time to switch to a different PCP. This includes, but is not limited to a physician:
Making inappropriate comments about a patient’s physical or mental health.
Asking questions not related to a patient’s health or attempting to get involved in a patient’s personal life.
Passing judgment on a patient’s personal life decisions.
It’s understandable for a patient to leave even if their discomfort is unexplainable and the provider does nothing physically, verbally, or emotionally to make a patient uneasy. A patient’s primary care provider should be someone they trust and feel comfortable discussing personal issues. If that trust is not preserved, it is time to find someone else.
Patient Feels No Improvement In Their Health
The main goals of consistently seeing a PCP are to receive care for medical problems and get advice on preventive healthcare measures to advance a patient’s health and wellness. If a patient comes to feel that their health is not benefitting from their provider’s practice, it could signal that it’s time to switch doctors.
Provider Does Not Consider the Patient’s Finances
A primary care physician is meant to oversee a patient’s overall health and wellness throughout their years. Finances are a huge component to consider when it comes to healthcare. If a physician doesn’t consider their patient’s ability to afford certain treatment options especially if they’re out-of-pocket costs, then it may be time to switch to a doctor that sees their patient more holistically.
How to Switch Doctors
When it comes to switching providers, the actual process of doing so is quite simple.
Step One: A patient should let their provider’s office know that they’re leaving so their doctors remove them from the office’s system. However, the patient does not have to let their provider know why they’re leaving.
- Step Two: After announcing the switch, a patient should request all of their medical records from their previous health care provider so they can fully prepare their next doctor. Medical records include but are not limited to:
List of Current Medications
Recent Test Results (lab work, x‑rays, scans, or procedures)
Contact Information for Prior Doctors or Specialists
Surgical Records (e.g., if you’ve had orthopedic surgery, dental procedures, etc. it’s important to note all surgical records)
Family Medical History
Step Three: Once the patient has left their old provider, they should take the time to fully research primary care providers until they find one that suits their wants and needs. Part of this research includes calling the provider’s office to make sure they are accepting new patients and that they take the patient’s insurance.
Tips for Choosing a New Provider
It’s an important step to engage in one’s healthcare and seek professional medical advice, but selecting a new healthcare provider can be tricky because there are so many to choose from. Tips to assist with a patient’s search for healthcare providers include:
Make a List: The patient should first outline a list of healthcare needs and wants to make sure the new provider fits within their desired healthcare plan.
Insurance Coverage: Either look on the provider’s website or call their office to ensure they accept a specific insurance policy. One can also try calling their insurance company to see which practices and providers are in-network. Selecting a doctor’s office or healthcare provider that is out-of-network could lead to heightened co-payments and a general increase in healthcare costs.
Map the Distance: Route the trip from your house to your new doctor’s office to see how far the commute would be. For patients who rely on public transit or require extra assistance, check if they provide transportation for patients. Oak Street Health provides transportation for patients who need it.
Read Patient Forums: Research patient forums to see how certain providers are rated by their patients, clientele, and broader medical community.
Board Certification: Ensure the provider is board-certified by searching them on this source.
Search Healthcare Databases: Certain healthcare databases such as the American Medical Association’s Doctor Finder website, the list of directories from MedlinePlus, and the Medicare Physician Compare tool for patients who have Medicare insurance plans, are great for narrowing down the provider options in one’s community.
Rely on Family & Friends: Ask family and friends for advice during the research process or even get their input or recommendations on who would make a good PCP in the area.
For more tips on finding a new PCP, visit this source.
For advice on what to bring to a first doctor’s appointment, visit this source.
For questions to ask when establishing a rapport with a new provider, visit this source.
This infographic gives patients tips on how to switch doctors smoothly.