Choosing a primary care doctor can be a tough decision, no matter who you are. Even if you’re a doctor.
“It’s one thing I think everyone struggles with,” said Dr. Deborah Stewart, a senior medical director at Florida Blue. “Probably even physicians and nurses, just like everyone else.”
The first thing to know, Dr. Stewart stressed, is everyone should have a primary care doctor. They give you and your family broad access to the health system, can treat a variety of health conditions and can help you coordinate specialty care. They also provide preventive care, like annual physical examinations, screenings and vaccinations.
Dr. Stewart believes most people choose their doctors by getting recommendations from people they trust, like friends, family members and neighbors. That should also include nurses, she said, because they work closely with the doctors and see behind-the-scenes things that most don’t. That input can be invaluable, she said.
Here are some other suggestions from Dr. Stewart on how to choose a doctor in your health plan:
Call the doctor’s office to see how the staff interacts with people. Are they polite? Are they helpful?
Check to see if they’re taking new patients and how long it usually takes to get an appointment.
Ask about the doctor’s specialties, especially if you have an ongoing medical condition like diabetes.
Location may be important, particularly for someone who relies on public transportation. Even if you’re driving yourself, you probably won’t want to travel a long distance if you’re not feeling well.
Find out how copays and deductibles are handled and make sure you understand payment policies.
If virtual care is important to you, ask if it’s an option. Check to see if it’s available during the day or only after hours. Most Florida Blue members also have 24/7 access to Teladoc for virtual care.
Does the staff perform lab work and imaging tests on site? If not, do they refer patients to a place in your network?
Here are some tips once you’ve chosen a doctor:
When making an appointment, ask whether you’ll be seeing the doctor, a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. Let the staff know if you feel strongly about seeing the doctor.
Be prepared for your appointment. If you have questions, make a reasonable list before you go. Routine appointments are often 10 minutes or less, so don’t expect to get through a list with 10 detailed questions. Dr. Stewart said she used to read her patients’ lists and ask what was bothering them the most. She’d focus on those first, then go to others if there was time.
Be understanding if the office occasionally runs behind. Sometimes a patient may be there for something as simple as a sore throat, but a more serious condition is discovered. Or the doctor may have gotten held up on hospital rounds.
If you’re upset over how something was handled by the office, talk to someone about it. Dr. Stewart said people often get disgruntled and leave the practice instead of having a conversation about their concerns.
Florida Blue members who don’t have a doctor or are looking for a different one, can use the online provider directory. You can search by location and medical conditions, like back pain or cancer, and you can see patient reviews. Don’t have a doctor? You can answer five quick questions about what you’re looking for (type of doctor, gender preference, languages spoken, distance from where you live and office hours) to get a list of providers in your health plan.