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What to do when your doctor retires

Created date

May 30th, 2009

You ve always had the same doctor, and you ve never had a problem getting an appointment. But now you re moving or your doctor is retiring, and you re running into roadblocks trying to get a new one. How can you get the care you need? And what kind of care do you need? Personal care In a complex health care system, having a primary care doctor is one way to keep things simple. This physician acts as your personal doctor, partnering with you to maintain your health and collaborating with others when necessary. Basically, this person leads your health care team. Over the years, you may have worked with members of this team who help keep you at your healthiest: a cardiologist who monitors a heart condition, an optometrist who updates your glasses prescription, or a gastroenterologist who addresses digestive issues. If you re checking in with a specialist, is it still necessary to have a primary care doctor? "Absolutely," says Philip Taylor, M.D., medical director at Maris Grove, an Erickson community in Pennsylvania. "You need an advocate. A primary care physician can help you sort through recommendations from different specialists and understand the complexities of your condition." This doctor sees the big picture of your health, while a specialist may only see one angle. Special delivery With specialties ranging from cardiology to orthopedics, it can be hard to pinpoint what type of primary care physician is the right fit. Finding one at all can be challenging there is a shortage, and 12% of those in practice don t accept Medicare. But if your previous physician didn t set you up with another doctor, there are other places to turn. "Word of mouth is important," says Michael Malone, M.D., medical director for senior services at Aurora Health Care and professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "Most folks ask other people friends, neighbors, church members, and colleagues about their experiences with their physicians before they make a decision." You can also search for a doctor in your area at the American Medical Association s website: When selecting a specialty, try internal medicine, family medicine, or geriatrics. "Most Americans receive primary care from an internal medicine or family medicine physician," says Malone. Doctors of internal medicine, also called internists, focus specifically on treating adults. Those in family medicine treat individuals in the context of the family. If you have chronic conditions or take multiple medications, you may want to seek out a geriatrician. Geriatricians are trained in family or internal medicine, with a focus on treating older adults. "They re a special group," says Taylor. "They have a different knowledge base and approach. Also, it s part of their style to really listen deeply." However, they are rare there is one geriatrician for every 2,546 Americans 75 or older. To find a geriatrician, call the American Geriatrics Society s Foundation for Health in Aging at 1-800-563-4916. Another method for finding a primary care physician is asking your insurance provider for names of doctors covered by your plan. A list of physicians participating in Medicare is available at (click on "Search Tools" then "Find a Doctor") or by calling 1-800-633-4227. ' Practice makes perfect ' "Your new doctor has to be able to help you navigate an increasingly complex health care system," says Malone. He adds that staff in the practice should be helpful too. To get an idea of what the doctor and the practice are like, the National Institute on Aging recommends calling the office and asking questions like "Does the doctor see many older patients?" or "Who sees patients if the doctor is out of town or not available?" When you are ready to make an appointment, find out which days are the busiest so you can plan your visit around them. You may also want to ask the office to send you the medical history form; that way, you can fill it out at home beforehand. ' Getting to know you ' "There s a whole database of knowledge in a physician s mind," says Taylor. "When you go to a new doctor, that database has to be developed all over again." If you re moving or your doctor is retiring, ask for a copy of your medical record. With your history at their fingertips, primary care physicians will be able to start understanding your situation faster. While most practices will fax records over after you sign the appropriate release forms, it is unpredictable how long that could take the wait may be up to several months. Instead, ask for a copy of your medical record in person and bring it to your new doctor s office. Just as important as your record is the information you offer in conversation. If you have a new symptom, explain what s going on, when it started, and how often it happens. At some point during your appointment, you may also want to let the physician get to know you personally. "Tell the doctor something important about your life so they remember you," Malone suggests. Offering an image or story to attach to the facts and figures about your health can help solidify your new partnership. "I had one patient who brought in a scrapbook from the 1960s with photos of her scuba diving," he says. "She was really into marine biology, and she said, This is what it was like when I was 40 years old. It was so nice! I thought, Now I understand a little bit more about you as a person. "

What to bring to your first appointment:

  • Names and phone numbers of other doctors and specialists you are seeing.
  • List of medications plus vitamins and supplements you take.
  • Name and phone number of the pharmacy you use.
  • Three or four things you want to cover during the visit.
  • Medical history forms, if you requested and completed them ahead of time.
  • Copy of your medical record, if you obtained it from your last doctor s office.