If you are moving or have recently moved an older parent to an assisted living community closer to you, you have a lot on your plate. Although your to-do list may already feel a mile long, it’s important to take the time to help your loved one research and select a primary care physician in their new area. That way, they can be prepared to get the best care in the event of a health emergency, chronic condition, or even just a simple checkup.
Choosing a new primary care doctor is a very important decision, especially as you get older. Not all physicians are comfortable caring for older adults, nor do they all have the experience necessary to identify and address age-related changes and concerns.
“You want to find someone you’re comfortable with and who listens to you and treats you as an individual,” says Jason Rieger, Executive Director at The Ivy at Watertown. “You want comfort, honesty, competency.”
Establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor is especially important for older adults, who tend to see several different doctors. In addition to seeing a primary care physician (PCP), your loved one might also see a cardiologist, an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist, a urologist, or a psychiatrist. Their PCP is essential in not only helping your parent stay healthy and preventing disease but also coordinating care with other members of your parent’s care team.
So as you plan the move and your loved one gets settled in their new town, Rieger offers these five tips to find a primary care doctor who will make them feel right at home.
1. Determine Which Doctors Are In-Network
Before Googling local doctors, you’ll want to identify which physicians are covered by your parent’s health insurance and is considered “in-network.” Using an out-of-network doctor will result in you paying in full out of pocket — and it won’t be cheap.
To ensure that you choose a new, in-network doctor, contact your loved one’s health insurance company and request a list of local doctors covered by their plan.
If your loved one is on Medicare, keep in mind that not all physicians accept this insurance plan due to perceived low reimbursement rates. To find physicians who are accepting new patients, visit the Medicare website.
2. Consider a Geriatrician
As your parent ages, they might want to consider looking for a geriatrician. Like a pediatrician, a geriatric physician specializes in diagnosing and treating patients during a particular stage of life — in this case, seniors.
Unlike a primary care physician, who is qualified to deal with all ages and is trained in a variety of medical subjects, a geriatrician has expertise in age-related physical and mental health conditions. If your loved one is managing multiple chronic, progressive health conditions, a geriatrician ensures their treatment plan is age-appropriate. They also tend to be more knowledgeable about the resources and support services available to older adults.
3. Ask For Referrals
Your loved one might feel comfortable visiting a doctor who comes recommended by someone they know or trust. Ask family members, friends, and co-workers if they have someone they would recommend.
You can also ask your parent’s former doctor for recommendations. It’s possible that they have contacts or know of well-regarded doctors in the area who can offer their opinions. It’s also worth asking around your local assisted living community or senior center to see if there are any clinics people prefer.
“We’re in the process of forming partnerships with area physicians who will provide services right in the community to make it more convenient for our residents,” Rieger says of The Ivy at Watertown, which is slated to open at the end of the month. “Anyone we partner with would be someone we would recommend. Calling an assisted living community that’s already vetted providers for you could be a big help for folks who are shopping for these services.”
4. Think About Logistics
Does your parent still drive, or do they rely on others for transportation? Will you want to find them a doctor who is close to your home or office so you can attend appointments with them?
When looking for a new primary care physician or a geriatrician, it’s important to consider location and office hours. What days and times does the doctor see patients?
It’s also a good idea to check what hospital the doctor admits patients to. Picking a highly rated doctor who is only affiliated with a low-rated hospital might not be the best choice.
You might even want to prioritize doctors in a large hospital system versus small private practice. Why? If your loved one has diabetes or another chronic illness, they might also want easy access to a nutritionist to help with care or a nurse who responds quickly to medical questions. A hospital will have all medical equipment and departments under one roof.
5. Visit the Doctor
As you help your parent narrow down their choices, make an appointment with the top runner so your loved one can get to know the doctor personally before they commit.
“It’s kind of like searching for the right assisted living community,” Rieger says. “When you look at the amenities side by side, they’re all so similar. But it’s that feeling you get when you’re actually in the building and talking to the staff that makes all the difference in the world.”
“It’s the same with choosing a physician,” he continues. “Nothing can really give you a feel for whether you’ve selected the right doctor like an office visit and a face-to-face meeting.”
Your parent’s primary care physician or geriatrician needs to be someone they trust and can rely on to help manage their health care. So before you go, write down some questions you and your parent have. In addition to questions related to your loved one’s specific situation, some important things to ask when choosing a new primary care physician include:
- What kind of patients do you typically see?
- Do you have experience treating patients with my condition?
- Are medical labs and tests conducted in the doctor’s office, or will I need to travel elsewhere to have these done?
- How long will I be able to meet with you typically?
When you go in for the visit, pay attention to environmental factors, too: Are the phones answered in a timely manner? How long is the wait to see the doctor after you arrive for your appointment? Is your loved one comfortable in the office and with the physician and nurses?
No matter what neighborhood your parent calls home, finding a physician who can help manage current and future challenges is important to aging well. If your loved one is relocating to Watertown, download our Watertown, Connecticut, Relocation Guide for Older Adults, which includes information on local health and wellness services.