Getting better medical care may mean switching doctors

You should feel comfortable communicating with your doctor, and he or she should empathize with you and plainly communicate what may be wrong - but not every doctor-patient relationship is a good fit.

Angie's List ,the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews, including health care providers, has tips on when it's time to change doctors and steps on how to make the switch.

Angie's List Tips: 5 Signs it's time to switch doctors

1. Your doctor doesn't listen: One of the most important aspects of being a good physician is listening to patients with compassion, empathy and interest. If you often feel talked down to, ignored or belittled in the office, you should start a new doctor search. Your physician should listen to all your concerns with patience and interest and carefully review any information you present, including articles from the Internet or medical journals.

2. Your doctor is unresponsive: Your doctor's office should respond to your calls promptly. If you find yourself leaving numerous messages and waiting days for a response, you may need to start searching for a new physician. Also, you might start looking if your doctor requires an unnecessary visit before approving prescription refills, forcing you to go days without medication.

3. The office is disorganized: Does your physician's office regularly make mistakes with billing, lose paperwork or overcharge you for services? Other warning signs include canceled appointments, scheduling mistakes, messages that never make it to the doctor, late refills or rude staff members.

4. Your physician is not willing to explore your ideas: Patients should be partners in their own health care, and physicians should willingly consider their ideas. Although they may not agree, they should at least take your opinions seriously. When you voice a concern or bring up a symptom, the doctor should respond with interest and promptly explore medical causes. In the same vein, all changes in your medication should be thoroughly discussed instead of just prescribed by the doctor.

5. Your physician is more interested in selling products than your care: Unfortunately, some doctors look at their practice as a way to sell expensive products or services. If your general practitioner routinely recommends treatments that are only available through his or her practice, or regularly recommends expensive treatments, take caution. You should never see any surprises on your bill, and if there are, they should be explained immediately and adequately.

Angie's List Tips: Steps to take when switching physicians

• Find a new doctor before you leave your old one: Don't assume a new doctor is accepting new patients, or you can get an appointment right away. It's best to find a new physician before you breakup with your current doctor. And, don't forget to have your medical records sent over to the new provider. Keep in mind, you may have to pay for copies.

• Check with your insurance company: Check with your insurance carrier that the physician is covered under your plan before switching.

• Do your research: Consult friends and family members and screen all potential physicians, inquiring about their education and continuing education, practice philosophy, experience and affordability. Read reviews and check their certifications on Angie's List to get an unbiased opinion and consider visiting the office before scheduling an appointment.

• Provide feedback? It's up to you whether you want to inform your physician why you are leaving, but your feedback could be valuable information for the doctor and the office staff. If you're not comfortable speaking to the doctor directly, you can share your thoughts in an email, letter, or online review.

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