Dear Nurse Katz,
Last week, I called my doctor to make an appointment for my annual check-up only to find that he is no longer accepting my insurance. I was devastated to find this out since this has been my doctor for over 20 years. Now, I am forced to find another doctor, which has been a task. After calling around for a doctor listed under my current health insurance plan, it seems that many of them are not taking new patients, I have to wait at least six weeks to get an appointment, or it is just inconvenient, i.e., no flexible hours, bad parking, or just too far. What should I do?
Los Angeles, CA
Believe it or not, you are not the only one frustrated with our health care system; doctors are too. Unfortunately, many seem to be "rebelling" by retiring early, dropping out of insurance plans, or not taking insurance AT ALL and going into concierge practices. You are lucky the office let you know ahead of time because many people are not finding out until they get to their appointment. With that said, I understand that having a doctor for over 20 years, and finding out that he has dropped your insurance (or vice versa) may seem personal, but in most cases, it is a business decision and you just got the short end of the stick. On the other hand, I have found that many doctors do not realize that this is happening because they do not handle the "day-to-day business operations" any more, and leave that up to the staff.
If you feel that strongly about your doctor, I would advise keeping your appointment and letting your doctor know how you feel. Make it a "pleasant breakup" per say. He may surprise you by working out a cash deal for your visits, or he may be able to refer you to a doctor that fits most of your requirements and participates with your insurance. You might even find that a call from your current doctor can create an exception to another doctors' "not accepting new patients" policy (depending on the relationship). Either way, you will have some sort of closure. If your doctor decides to "cut you loose," which I hope is not be the case, stay pleasant and wish him well. Be sure to request copies of all of your medical records before you leave. If he is able to recommend a doctor he thinks you will like, be sure to sign any forms you might need to ensure your medical records get transferred to the new doctor without a hitch. Keep in mind that if you get copies of your medical records to take home, there may be a small fee involved. Check with your state to see what the regulations are to avoid any excessive charges.
On the other hand, hopefully your doctor is happy to keep you as a patient and work out a cash rate within your budget that works for both of you. If you come to an agreement, be sure you follow a few simple tips to keep him in "good graces" if you have not done them already:
• Stay up to date on your insurance. Doctors don't have time to read all of the insurance plans out there in detail, if any at all, so it is important that you keep track of what is included in your policy and stay updated on any changes. This way, if your doctor needs to prescribe a medication, or refer you to a specialist, they can choose from the list you show them instead of referring you to something/someone that may not covered by your current insurance plan. Don't forget about lab work that the doctor may order and send out!
• Write down your questions ahead of time. Most doctors appreciate if you respect their time (and yours too). A good way to do this is by being quick and organized. You can accomplish this by writing your questions down while you are patiently waiting to be seen (or even earlier). This will also prevent you from leaving the office and having to bug his staff later because you forgot to ask.
• Say "thank you". You might be surprised by how many patients DON'T utter a single word of appreciation to their doctor. A simple "thank you" can go a LONG way.
• Show an interest. Get to know your doctor's anniversary or interests. Ask them about their kids or favorite sports team, etc. My grandmother knit a blanket in her doctor's favorite sports team colors one year for the holidays one year. He still talks about it today! It has also allowed her to spend a little more time with the doctor when she has an appointment because the blanket always comes up, and she always has a few extra questions on her treatment that he does not mind answering.
So Miriam, I hope you kept your appointment and you and your doctor are able to work out a mutual agreement. This is one of those relationships worth fighting for, especially after all of that time. In the end, your health just might be better off without the extra stress of getting to know a new doctor.
More tips like these as well as simple tips on choosing the best doctor for you and your family can be found in the book Healthcare Made Easy.