By Dr. Max Mercado
For many Delaware Valley residents, finding a primary care physician (PCP) who meets their unique needs is exhausting. So when your favorite doctor tells you they’re retiring, moving out of network, or leaving the state, re-starting the search process can be daunting.
Though it might be tempting to put off the search, it’s crucial to find a new PCP as soon as possible to maintain continuity of care. This is especially true for older adults, the majority of whom suffer at least one chronic condition that requires regular doctor visits. As we age, it becomes even more important to get the consistent, personalized care to address health concerns that inevitably increase as the years pass. It’s no wonder that a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows 88% of Americans over 65 report seeing a PCP, compared to just 55% of adults under 30.
As a practicing PCP myself, these are the five criteria I think are most important to assess when choosing a new doctor:
1) Verify your insurance coverage. If you have a doctor in mind, check with your insurance provider to confirm if the doctor is in-network and what type of visits are covered. Also, be sure to ask about any potential out-of-pocket costs for both predictable care needs, such as regular office visits, blood tests or allergy shots, and for acute events. These costs often vary and make a huge difference on what you pay out of pocket.
Many insurers have this information online, but it can be helpful to call and talk through your options with a live agent. The last thing you want after visiting a new doctor is a surprise bill.
2) Consider the convenience factor. Regardless of how much you like your PCP, having to travel three towns over for every visit is not sustainable, especially if you’re not feeling your best. Make sure the doctor’s office is in a location that is accessible by a reliable mode of transportation.
Beyond physical accessibility, ask if your doctor has a telemedicine practice or is reachable via email outside of appointments. This can be helpful if you have a question about your prescription after your visit, or have a less urgent symptom you’d like to ask about.
3) Gut check your personal compatibility. Comfort level with a specific physician is a huge consideration for anyone seeking a new doctor. For example, think about whether you’d prefer to see a male or female physician. If you speak a language other than English, it’s worth taking the time to find a physician who is fluent in your first language.
I also recommend visiting the office before committing to a physician. After your first visit, ask yourself, did the doctor address all of my questions and concerns? Did they make you feel rushed? These types of considerations can be confirmed only in person.
4) Meet the staff. It’s easy to overlook the importance of a kind, responsive front desk team, until you’re faced with a rude receptionist. The office staff are gatekeepers to scheduling and answering insurance questions, so make sure the team seems friendly and efficient. At my practice, the office manager aims to answer every call within five minutes and welcome every patient with a warm greeting.
5) Look for a holistic and data-driven approach to care. As more care facilities embrace new technologies in their practices, make sure to choose a doctor who approaches care holistically, using both traditional and technology-driven insights.
For example, I use the Clover Assistant Application, an online platform from Medicare Advantage insurer Clover Health that surfaces real-time data about each patient at the point of care, helping doctors deliver personalized treatment options for each patient depending on health history. Technologies like the Clover Assistant Application are designed to intervene and promote the early detection of diseases, gaps in care and complications, and allow us doctors to spend more time with our patients.
Primary care doctors are often the most important person on your healthcare team. Make sure to choose wisely — it’s worth the effort. ••
Mercado Medical Practice is in the Jeanes Physician Office Building, 7500 Central Ave., Suite 203. The phone number is 215-289-7442.