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How to Change Doctors

Make a Smooth Transition When It's Time to Find a New Doctor

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Updated May 28, 2014

doctor with arms crossed

There are many reasons you might want to change doctors. An inability to have respectful conversations is one of them.

Getty Images - Cultura Science/Sigrid Gombert
female doctor wagging her finger

Not every doctor is happy you're leaving his or her practice

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There are two aspects to changing doctors: leaving one doctor, and finding and seeing a new one. Once you have decided you have valid reasons for changing doctors, you'll want to be sure to do it the right way. If you don't, you may be left out in the cold when it comes to finding a new provider to meet your needs.

Before You Leave the Doctor You've Already Got

In order to make the transition from your old doctor to your new doctor go smoothly, you'll want to do the following:
  • If finding a new doctor is your choice, and not mandatory, then make sure there are other doctors who can help you before you leave. Some doctors do not take new patients. Others will not take Medicaid patients. Specialists are booked months in advance. You'll need to do your due diligence to identify your new doctor before you leave the other one behind.
     
  • Schedule one last visit with the doctor you are leaving. Ask for a status report on current and recurring health conditions. Take notes, and take a second person with you, if possible. If you can discuss your reasons for leaving, this is a good time to do it. Just don't burn any bridges. The community of doctors is small, even in large cities. Making things difficult for your doctor may make it difficult to find a new doctor.
     
  • Ask for copies of all medical records that relate to any current or chronic problems you have suffered throughout the past five or six years. Doctors’ notes, test results and other information will be useful to your new doctor. In general, your access to these records is regulated by HIPAA federal government policies which address access to health records. However, each state has its own laws about how to make formal requests, and how that request will be carried out. You will likely need to make the request in writing, and you may have to pay for the copies. Further, if your doctor uses an electronic medical record keeping system (EMR), then you may find that the process will be altered, depending on whether the new doctor is using a similar system.
     
  • Once you have had this final briefing with your doctor, and with copies of your records in hand, you'll be ready to visit your new doctor.

Do You Need to Tell Your Current Doctor Why You Are Leaving?

No, you don't. But if you are leaving because you don't have a choice, then it shouldn't be difficult to do so. It's good for your doctor to know you aren't leaving because of some problem she caused.

On the other hand, if you are leaving because you choose to, and your reasons include some problem you've experienced with your doctor, that would be valuable information for your doctor to have, too. It's not easy, but if you have it in you to do so, share your reasons with the doctor. You can do so respectfully and politely. Speak to the doctor directly, or write a letter or fill out a form to send your doctor apprising her of your reasons. You may find it's cathartic, and doing so will help the doctor adjust her practice and future patients to be better served. You may also find out that the problem you perceive is simply a misunderstanding.

Visiting Your New Doctor

Assuming you have done your due diligence, and you have found Dr. Right as a replacement for the doctor you are leaving, there are some steps to take to ensure development of the right relationship with your new doctor.

  • Begin by making an appointment just to get to know the new doctor, perhaps to have a physical. You may want to do this before you leave the former, if possible. Visiting the doctor when you have a few minutes to talk generally is a much better way to start a new relationship than when you are sick or hurt and must attend to those problems instead of your general health.
     
  • It's good practice to keep copies of all your medical records. Therefore, make a second set of copies of your records so you can keep one set, and give the other to the new doctor. If possible, provide the copies to your new doctor before your visit. If she has time, she may review them prior to your appointment and that will leave you more time to chat, less of which will be taken up by her reading.
     
  • Write down a master list of questions for your new doctor to discuss when you visit. You may or may not choose to tell her why you left your previous doctor. If you do decide to share that information, do so knowing that you are providing information about your expectations from this new relationship. Just like you did with your former doctor, discuss these points respectfully and politely. You are establishing a professional, trustful relationship and it's good to start off on the right foot.

Once you've begun working with your new doctor, remember that you must invest as much into the relationship as your new doctor does. Your doctor may be the person who is supposed to fix your health problems -- but it's up to us patients to be sure we are making healthy life choices and complying with their instructions once problems arise.

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