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How to Change Doctors

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There are many reasons someone might want to change doctors. Practices close, families move, insurance contracts change, or sometimes we just have a feeling that another doctor would communicate better, respect us more, provide a proper diagnosis or just partner with us more effectively.

There are two aspects of such a change: leaving one doctor, and finding a new one.

Here are some steps to take when you are ready to leave a doctor’s practice:

First, finding a new doctor is similar to finding a new job – it’s smart to have a new one lined up before you leave the old one. You don’t want to be stuck without a doctor should you develop symptoms or get sick. So your first step is making sure you have a new doctor before you leave the old one, if possible.

Identifying a new one may not be easy. Some doctors don’t take new patients, or they limit the numbers of Medicare or Medicaid patients they will take. Some won’t work with your insurance. Specialists may be booked months in advance.

Once you’ve identified your new doctor, schedule one last visit with the doctor you are leaving. Ask for a status report on current and recurring health conditions. Take someone with you to support or advocate for you, and take notes, if possible.

Ask for copies of all medical records that relate to any current or chronic problems you have suffered throughout the past five or six years. Doctors’ notes, test results and other information will be useful to your new doctor. You may be charged for copies, up to a dollar or more per page depending on the state you live in. You may be asked to put your request in writing. Expect to receive those records within 30-60 days.

You do not owe your doctor an explanation about why you are leaving. However, you may decide to share your reasons to make the transition smoother. For example, if you are moving to another town, your doctor may be able to make a referral.

The rules are different if you will be seeing a new doctor in the same area, however.

If you are changing doctors even though you are staying in the same area, don’t ask your doctor to refer you to someone else. Just like you wouldn’t ask your car mechanic to refer you to a different mechanic if you no longer wanted to work with him, it’s not smart to ask a doctor to refer you to a competitor. Asking a doctor to refer you to someone who does the same work as she does (same practice or same specialty) means you’ll only get a confirmation of exactly what you have already been getting – not new information or different information. Doctor very rarely contradict or second guess their friends or close colleagues. When you make your choice of a new doctor, you’ll want to find one who has no business or personal relationship with the one you are leaving.

If you are leaving because you are dissatisfied with your care, and you are brave enough to do so, respectfully and politely tell your doctor why you are leaving. Sharing will help her improve her service and may also be cathartic. You’ll be helping future patients.

Share this information verbally, write a letter, or find a copy of a doctor’s report card you can fill out to send to your doctor at: http://diagknowsis.org/reportcard/index.htm.

Edited by Alison Stanton

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.