How to Change Doctors

Three Parts:Leaving Your Former DoctorFinding a ReplacementManaging the Transition

On occasion, it's necessary to change doctors. This is often due to circumstances, such as moving away, but can sometimes be the result of patient dissatisfaction. Whatever the reason for the switch, the process of finding a new doctor requires time, research, and care.

Part 1
Leaving Your Former Doctor

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    Know when to switch. Changing doctors is a serious decision. Sometimes, the decision to switch is out of necessity. For example, if you or your doctor is moving out of the area, then it may be necessary to find a new doctor. Unfortunately, sometimes negligence or poor performance on behalf of your current doctor may prompt the desire to switch. You should consider finding a new doctor if any of the following occur:
    • The doctor dismisses your complaints, especially if you're older. Elderly patients frequently have doctors who overlook or ignore ailments by simply blaming age.[1]
    • The doctor orders tests or lab work without explaining their reasons.[2]
    • Your doctor interrupts you frequently and does not interact with you for very long during office visits.[3]
    • Your doctor prescribes medication or orders surgeries and procedures without knowing your medical history or with little prior discussion[4]
    • If your doctor has been involved in any medical malpractice allegations, it might be a good idea to switch.
    • If you have a specific condition, and your doctor is not a specialist in that area, you need to find a new doctor.
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    Decide what to tell your former doctor, if anything. When switching doctors, you need to decide whether your reasons for leaving are worth explaining.
    • If you're leaving your doctor because you were unhappy with his or her services, it's okay to express this. Doctors do like to keep patients happy and their reputation intact, so feedback may help their performance in the future. However, many people are not comfortable with face-to-face confrontation. You could consider writing a letter and mailing it to your doctor's office.[5]
    • If you feel uncomfortable with your current doctor for any reason, it is acceptable to leave without explanation. Doctors are generally busy and may not notice a missing patient, especially if your visits are infrequent.[6]
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    Ask your former doctor for a referral. Sometimes, switching doctors is not a result of a bad relationship between doctor and patient. If you and your doctor are on good terms, there's no better source to ask for a referral to a new physician than your former doctor.
    • Chances are your doctor has a colleague in the area that will make a good replacement. Medical schools are wide-reaching communities and physicians often end up with a nation-wide list of references. Even if you are switching due to a big move, your doctor could still help.
    • As your doctor already knows your medical history, he or she can help you search for a new physician who can cater to your specific needs. In fact, your doctor may actually suggest you transfer to a specialist if they're having trouble with your particular condition.[7]

Part 2
Finding a Replacement

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    Ask around. Seek out the advice of people you trust, like friends and family members, as you begin your search for a new physician.
    • Ask friends and family members a variety of questions. Ask if they know a good doctor, whether they'd recommend their current doctor, how long it takes to get an appointment, what the waiting time is like, and how long their doctor generally spends with patients.[8]
    • If you're seeing any health care specialists, like an allergy doctor or dermatologist, you could also ask one of them for suggestions. A specialist doctor might be able to refer you to a friend or a colleague.[9]
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    Search online. There are a variety of ways to find a doctor through online searches. This can be especially helpful if you're new to the area and do not know anyone who you could ask.
    • The American Medical Association has a doctor finder tool. Not only can you find doctors in your area who specialize in certain fields, you can also get a sense of a doctor's reputation. Information on medical malpractice records and overall patient satisfaction is available.[10]
    • You can also search online using your insurance provider. They generally have a list of doctors that take your insurance, and you can search by field and location.[11]
    • The Affordable Healthcare Act has a list of providers online. Other websites like, also have databases of physicians.[12]
    • Physician rating sites, such as Healthgrades, can be a hit and miss tool for gauging a doctor's competence. People often only post if they loved or hated a doctor, so opinions are often biased or given in response to temporary frustrations.[13]
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    Schedule your first appointment. Once you have found a doctor you think might be right for you, you should schedule an appointment as soon as possible. There, you can discuss your medical history and specific needs with your new physician.
    • When you call to schedule an appointment, have a variety of questions ready. Ask how long an appointment typically takes, how long lab work and x-rays take to process, whether your doctor is board certified, and who sees patients if your doctor is out of town.[14]
    • You will probably be asked to come in 15 to 20 minutes early to fill out forms. Make sure you know your medical history thoroughly before going in and have a list of all your current medications and their dosages. You will also be asked about any drug allergies, or serious reactions to drugs, so make sure you have this information as well.[15]
    • The doctor will ask you about your family's medical history. Do a mental recap before going in of any major illnesses or ailments, like cancer and heart attacks, in your family's history.[16]
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    Evaluate your experience. After your first appointment, you need to consider whether this doctor is right for you. If not, then you can continue to look elsewhere.
    • Be honest with yourself. Were you comfortable at the doctor's office? Did your new doctor repeat any mistakes your old doctor made? You don't want to switch over and end up with the same set of problems. If you weren't happy with your experience, keep looking.
    • Was your new doctor able to help you with your specific medical issues? If the new doctor's area of expertise does not apply to your situation, you might want to keep looking.
    • Was the doctor courteous and respectful during your visit? Poor bedside manner is a reason many people give for switching doctors. Go over the conversation you had with your new doctor and determine whether anything said made you uncomfortable or hurt your feelings. Yet again, you don't want a repeat of past issues.

Part 3
Managing the Transition

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    Make sure the new doctor will take your insurance. Healthcare can get very costly without insurance. Make sure your doctor accepts your insurance plan.
    • You can call the office and ask or you can check online. Oftentimes, you can even find doctors through working with your insurance company. This is a great way to assure your coverage is accepted.
    • If you have any questions about coverage and co-pays, clear these up with your insurance company before going in. You don't want to get a big bill you were not anticipating a month after your first visit.
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    Have your medical records forwarded. You'll need your medical records forwarded to your new doctor. This can be done in a variety of ways.
    • You can request a copy of your medical records over the phone, and some offices even have a Patient Portal that allows you to access your records online. You can have the records sent directly to you and then bring them to your new doctor. Make sure to request items like lab results, x-rays, and any CAT or MRI scans.[17]
    • If you're being referred to a specialist, consultation notes can help your new doctor understand your condition. While these legally belong to your doctor, you're entitled to a copy. You can request these when requesting your records.[18]
    • You can request your records face-to-face at the front desk of your doctor's office. You may be required to pay for the cost of print outs, but the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act means you can only be charge cost-based fees. In general, if there is a fee it's around $20. If you have a lengthy medical record, you may have to pay more.[19]
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    Get organized. Preparing your own patient history can help smooth the transition. You should also make sure there's no gaps in coverage. You don't want to be left without a doctor during an emergency or run out of a prescription and have no one to refill it.
    • Make sure that you get a supply of refills for any prescriptions you have with your old doctor before searching for a new one. This way, you won't be left without your meds if the search is lengthy and your prescription expires.[20]
    • Make a running list of your medical history, including medications, allergies, and diseases that run in your family, and give a copy to your new doctor. New patient forms are often brief and it's difficult to include all the necessary information. The more your doctor knows about you, the better.[21]


  • Friends and family members can help you choose your new doctor by giving you personal reviews of their doctors.
  • If you're a student, you might be able to find a physician through your school. However, make sure your school has a good reputation in the medical community before seeking healthcare through a university.


  • While rare, there have been instances of doctors trying to manipulate patients into staying by withholding medical records. Understand you have a legal right to your records.
  • Do your research. You don't want to end up with a doctor with a bad reputation. Be wary of any medical malpractice claims and try to get a sense of your new physicians reputation.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Finding a Medical Specialist