Maybe you love your current doctor but have to change. Perhaps you moved or had a change in insurance. Or maybe you just haven’t gotten a check up in several years resorting to urgent care when you feel particularly nasty and you’ve begun to realise it would be more practical to have a primary care provider. Whatever your circumstance and no matter what kind of doctor you’re looking to bring onto your medical care team there are some important questions to ask your new doctor that will help you quickly learn if they are a perfect fit.
1. What is your billing policy?
Let’s get right to the nitty gritty! Be sure to ask right away if your doctor takes your medical insurance and how they handle billing. Most doctors will bill your insurance but some expect you to pay and submit your claims yourself. This may depend on the type of insurance you have as well. When you call to make an appointment with a new doctor be sure to have your insurance card ready and ask this question. Be sure to get a clear answer before your appointment to avoid any awkward situations. And while you’re at it be sure to ask about co-pays and deductibles as well. Will they bill you or expect payment the day of the appointment?
2. What hospital are you associated with?
You might not be concerned about this now but keep in mind that your doctor’s network is likely to be affiliated with the same hospital. Should you need medical tests or a consult with a specialist you’ll be most likely referred to the hospital your doctor is affiliated with. Is it convenient for you to get to? Are you comfortable with that hospital?
3. What is your specialty? Are there any other specialties represented in your office?
I felt like I’d struck gold when I found my kid’s pediatrician! Why? Well, because he was dual certified in pediatrics and internal medicine and there was a gerontologist on staff as well! That meant this one small office could provide excellent care for everyone in my family from my grandma to my newborn! I can’t begin to tell you how much it simplified my life that I only had to call one place for appointments, prescription refills, and billing questions. Obviously they also have my whole family’s medical records but don’t let that fool you I still had to give a complete history.
4. Do they have an onsite lab and what is the billing procedure for that?
This might not matter much to you but I always hated having to take my kids to a different location to have basic lab work done. Not every doctor’s office is equipped to collect lab specimens and even those that are often bill separately. Be sure to know the details about how lab work is handled before your first appointment.
5. Antibiotics for all?
I’m not exactly sure how to phrase this question but I’m always sure to ask what their qualifications are for prescribing antibiotics. How do they determine if the infection is bacterial? Do they often prescribe antibiotics over the phone or for “sinus infections”. I typically prefer to see doctors who are cautious about antibiotic prescriptions in part because I’m concerned about super bugs and don’t want to be exposed to them in the waiting room.
6. What are your policies regarding vaccinating and seeing unvaccinated patients?
Whether you vaccinate fully, partially, or not at all, you’ll want to be aligned with your doctor. Most doctors have very firm policies regarding this and you’ll want to know what they are. Depending on how you feel about vaccinating and the risk factors of your family members you may way to know the doctor’s policy in advance.
7. How to they feel about lifestyle changes as a means of prevention and treatment?
If you want a doctor who’s going to advise you of possible lifestyle changes you can make rather than simply giving you a prescription after the fact, this is an important question to ask. You may be surprised at how many doctors don’t support lifestyle change as a means of prevention and treatment. And even more surprised at how many of them think this is some kind of new wave nonsense.
Pst… if you follow a special nutrition plan or lifestyle you may also want to ask if they support that. If you’re vegan, or keto, or paleo, or… you get the picture, don’t keep it to yourself or wait to find out that your doctor is very averse to your health choices.
8. How do you feel about alternative / holistic medicine?
This question is very important if you have any interest in pursuing any non conventional medicine treatments including taking supplements. Be very specific when asking about this. Many doctors believe in chiropractic care but not energy healing for example. Some will work in collaboration with other care providers while other’s won’t accept even results given through lab work ordered by a functional medicine MD. Again, you’ll want to make sure you and your doctor are on the same page here.
9. Do they know their limitations?
Ok… so obviously I don’t ask this question in this way, but it’s an important one to ask! The most obvious oversteps you’re likely to catch are in the areas of supplements and nutrition. Most doctors have very little (if any) training in either area but many advise regarding them anyway. This is a huge problem and if it happened in reverse could result in even criminal charges. If your doctor says that it’s “safe” for you to start taking an herb or supplement or recommends dietary changes it’s reasonable to ask them what credentials they have in that department.
Another great way to find out if they can stay in their lane is to ask in the first appointment if they can recommend other professionals who can provide support in the area of nutrition, supplements, and other alternative modalities. They may not have a list to refer you to and that’s ok but they shouldn’t start advising in these areas. (Think about it… if you ask for a chiropractor referral does your doctor start giving you an adjustment? No. Likewise they shouldn’t be giving you nutrition advice if you ask for a referral.)
10. Do you feel comfortable, heard, and respected?
Ok… so this one is a question for you! Do you feel comfortable, heard, and respected by your care provider and their staff? If for any reason you don’t, even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, this isn’t a fit for you! Now, that doesn’t mean you simply skip your annual exam and go back to using the urgent care on an as needed basis, that means you keep up the hunt for the right fit. There are tons of excellent doctors and nurse practitioners out there who will provide the care you need and who you feel comfortable with (or dare I say it… who you actually enjoy seeing).