Time to ditch your doc?

Contemplating divorcing your health care provider? When and how?

By Barbara Pierce

“Having a primary care provider with whom you feel comfortable, connected and confident is essential,” said Patricia Salzer, wellbeing engagement consultant, Excellus Blue Cross BlueShield, Utica. “Your PCP is an important partner with you in your health care.”

Signs that it may be time to consider changing:

— You feel uncomfortable. If your PCP ever makes you feel uncomfortable either physically, emotionally, or sexually, it’s time to find a new one. Trust your gut instinct. Period.

— Poor communication. He or she doesn’t listen to you, interrupts while you’re explaining your situation, doesn’t give you the time or opportunity to ask questions, or you feel like you can’t be honest with him or her.

— Medical information can be difficult to understand, so you’re bound to need clarification at times. If you’re unable to have a discussion with your physician where you both end up on the same page, it’s not a good fit.

— Your PCP doesn’t involve you in decision-making. When patients partner with their provider in decision-making, they tend to make better choices about their care. The PCP should provide clear explanations, answer your questions, and value your input.

— Your PCP discourages second opinions. A second or third opinion can confirm a diagnosis or reveal alternatives. Misdiagnoses do occur 10-to-20% of the time. If it’s not an emergency, a PCP should never discourage you from getting a second opinion.

— The office doesn’t follow up on test results or return your calls. You should be able to easily get results, with an explanation of their meaning, as soon as results are available.

— Your PCP is “prescription-happy:” Prescriptions aren’t always the right answer. Medications can provide life-changing treatments in many situations, but that doesn’t mean your provider should be reaching for the prescription pad before you finish telling them what’s wrong.

Your physician should fully hear you out, thoroughly explain all possible treatment options, and help you arrive at the best possible treatment plan — maybe a prescription, maybe not.

— Your PCP is not the expert you need. You may click well with him or her, but they don’t have the expertise to help you with your specific needs. Maybe they can’t answer all of your questions about food allergies the way an allergist could, or they’ve tried several treatments for your persistent migraines and have exhausted their resources.

— Misdiagnosis that caused a bad outcome. However, if your PCP made a misdiagnosis, then communicates the situation to you clearly and corrects the mistake, do consider your past experiences with your doctor before making a rash decision to leave.

— Your PCP has no respect for your time. If you consistently have a difficult time getting an appointment when you need one, you might consider changing.

Long waits in the waiting room can be worth it if you know you’ll get the care and attention you deserve face-to-face with your PCP, but a long wait just for him or her to only half-listen to you before just shoving a prescription your way should have you looking for the exit permanently.

Making the transition

Changing doctors can be challenging. “There are resources that can help you when it’s time to switch,” said Salzer. “Many health insurance plans have a ‘Find a Doctor’ or similar tool on their website that can help you find a new provider. Be sure to note if they are in your network and whether or not they are accepting new patients.”

Hospitals and health care systems’ websites can also help, as can recommendations from other providers of medical care whom you know. Ask family, friends, and people you trust for their recommendations.

To ensure your care is transferred to your new provider as seamlessly as possible, Salzer recommends the following:

— Request a transfer of your medical record to your new provider. It may be helpful to give your former provider your new provider’s phone and fax numbers as soon as you can.

— Let your new provider know what medications you’re currently taking and put a plan in effect right away to prevent a lapse in your prescriptions. If you anticipate a delay in getting in to see your new provider, work with your current provider’s office to be sure you have enough refills to get you through to your new appointment.

— Inform any specialists you see of the change in your PCP and update any health profiles you may have in which your prior provider is listed. This may include a telemedicine account from which clinical summaries can be sent to your provider.

“Your provider is the gatekeeper of your care. It’s important to find one that’s a good fit for you, and to proactively take the necessary steps to make the transition a smooth one,” she added.