How To Evaluate A Potential Primary Care Physician

Did you know that you can set up consultations with doctors when you're looking for a new one, just to find out if that doctor is one you'd like to have as your primary care physician? You'll have to pay for the appointment, of course, and you may be limited to a very short appointment. But it is possible to arrange for a time to simply meet the doctor to see if the two of you share a common approach to healthcare. Because you might not have a lot of time, here's how you should approach the consultation.

Be Clear About the Purpose

When you call to set up the appointment, be very clear about the purpose with the receptionist. Let him or her know that you are trying to find a new doctor and would like to set up a general consultation so you and the doctor can meet. Let them know you'd like to do this because you want to be sure you are choosing the right doctor (and given that some insurance companies might lock you in with one doctor for the year, you really want to be sure you're choosing the right one). Note that these types of consultations aren't that common, but a straightforward explanation should take care of any confusion.

Notes, Notes, Notes

Do not rely on your memory to hold onto all the questions you want to ask. Draw up two lists. One should have the questions, and the other should have specific conditions that you are dealing with. First you'll ask the questions, and then if the answers point in a positive direction, you can start talking to the doctor about the conditions you have and find out if the doctor has experience with those or wants to take a different approach to your care.

Start With These Questions

So, those questions. In addition to any specific ones you think of, try these (modify the wording to fit your politeness comfort level):

  • What is your approach to patient autonomy? (Hint: You have it, legally, so your doctor should respect your right to refuse to take a standard test, for example.)
  • Do you prefer a more collaborative approach to treatment? (As opposed to the doctor being the authority that you cannot question.)
  • How do you handle patients asking for details about why you want them to do x or y? (For example, if the doctor tells you not to worry about something, and you ask why, will the doctor explain it or just tell you not to worry again?)

If you have prior experiences you can mention, you might consider doing that (e.g., Long ago you saw one doctor about a changing mole, the doctor said not to worry, you got confused about what to look for, but the doctor refused to discuss it and became upset that you asked why the particular change was actually OK. You want to find someone who can clear up confusion like that).

Move on to Specific Conditions

If the answers to those seem like you're looking at a good match, let the doctor know about conditions you have or strange issues you've faced before, and ask if the doctor has any concerns about what you've mentioned.

It is possible to do all that within a few minutes if you prepare and write things down. Doctors want to have patients they get along with, too, so go ahead and present the situation as a way to find a good partnership.