As I mentioned in the first two installments in my blog series “Reforming Health Care Reform”, finding a good doctor here in Tucson who will work with Medicare patients can be an extremely frustrating exercise. My wife and I have both struggled with this ever since our former doctor passed away.
For over a decade the government has driven good doctors out of Medicare through lowering their reimbursement. And historically primary care doctors (family practitioners and internists) have been relegated to the bottom of the totem pole in terms of both status and reimbursement. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act attempts to rectify this situation by creating a more favorable reimbursement structure for primary care doctors. Unfortunately the Obama administration has not done a very good job of publicizing this reform to either doctors or Medicare patients.
So what do you do if you want to find a good doctor who will work with Medicare? It is most important that you do your homework and be persistent. Let me offer some suggestions along these lines.
- Probably the best point of entry to finding a doctor who will be a good match is by referral, either from a friend who has a well established relationship with that doctor, or a professional colleague. This may elicit a willingness to accept you as a patient even from a doctor who has a very busy schedule.
- Research the doctor’s credentials and other qualifications online. Where did they do their training, are they board certified in their area of practice, and what do their patients have to say about them?
- Call the doctor’s office and be prepared. It’s a good idea to jot down a few brief notes, such as why you are seeking a new doctor, who referred you to them, what is your major presenting problem, etc. If you are told that the doctor is currently not accepting new Medicare patients ask why, and ask if you can get on their waiting list.
- Be persistent. You may need to try 4-5 (or more) offices before you finally link up with a doctor who meets your needs and preferences.
- Be willing to wait a few months to see a doctor you really want to work with. Unfortunately there is a shortage of good primary care doctors and waits of one-two months or even longer are not uncommon. In the meantime you can use an urgent care center for pressing problems. I recently pinned down an internist who came highly recommended by a trusted source: as I am in pretty good health I was willing to wait a bit over two months to get to see him.
- Are you willing to work with your doctor of choice in concert with a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner? More and more primary care doctors are going this route, which allows them to manage larger caseloads while ensuring that their patients receive personalized attention. My experience is that PA’s and NP’s are generally enthusiastic about what they are doing and will often spend more time with their patients. Your doctor, of course, provides medical supervision and will meet with you to address any serious concerns.
- When you see your new doctor, be sure to express your appreciation to both the doctor and their front office staff. Many if not most doctors are very frustrated with today’s high pressure medical environment, and both your doctor and his or her staff will any sincere expression of appreciation. Believe me, a sincere compliment could really make their day!
I hope the above tips are helpful, and I would be interested in hearing about your own experience in finding the right doctor. To your health!
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John Newport holds doctorates in public health and psychology and has spent the past 40 years working in various capacities in health services policy analysis, health care administration and wellness promotion. He is a former commissioned officer with the U.S. Public Health Service, and has served as a senior level research associate in health policy analysis at the UCLA School of Public Health and as a senior planning associate with a major metropolitan hospital/health services planning agency. He is author of “The Wellness-Recovery Connection”, published by Health Communications, Inc. and has published well over 200 articles focusing on health care issues, wellness promotion and the role of wellness in recovery from addictive disorders.