The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 5, 2014

Questions to ask your new doctor

If you change doctors, it's important to ask questions

By Robb Murray

---- — By Robb Murray

It’s that time of year, again. Resolutions, new beginnings, fresh starts ...

And for some, a new physician.

Whether you signed up for health care through the state’s MNsure system or get insurance through an employer, there could be a large number of people in the Mankato area who will be sitting across the exam room from a stranger in a lab coat and stethoscope.

“I’ve been here for 16 years,” Mayo Clinic Health System’s Dr. Steve Campbell said. “At the beginning of the year I’m always greeted with new patients.”

This year, however, MCHS may be looking at a larger than normal influx of patients. Changes in insurance rates for state employees appear to have made rates for MCHS cheaper in some cases than other clinics.

Most clinics, including MCHS, will allow you to choose your new doctor. For example, if your friend is seeing Dr. Smith at the new clinic you’re transferring to and you’d like to see Dr. Smith as well, they’ll usually let you. Also, most clinics will allow initial appointments to run a little longer so a patient can get to know the new doc.

“It gives that person a chance to test drive us and determine if it’s going to be the right fit,” Campbell said.

Going to a new doctor can be a stressful thing. Campbell suggests a few strategies to make that transition a smooth one.

First, Campbell suggests asking your new doctor what kinds of services are available. For example, is there an urgent care facility, how robust is the online component (can you schedule an appointment online or get lab results.)

You should ask how appointments are scheduled, and whether they’ve got such frontline services as call-in lines (where nurses can ask key questions that may result in you not even having to come in to see — and pay for — a visit.)

Campbell also suggests asking a doctor about her or his specialty. If one of your main concerns is having a pediatrician for your kids instead of a family doctor, let the provider know right away and, in most cases, they can accommodate.

You should also ask about electronic records and how the new provider plans to incorporate previous records into their system. Different health care providers typically do not have medical records systems that can communicate with each other. So in many cases the new provider must manually enter key data. At MCHS, they will manually input some data and refer to the patient’s paper chart for other matters.

Finally, Campbell recommends that when a new patient comes to a doctor for the first time, to bring a family member.

“Write questions down. Bring all medications into your first appointment. It’s important we understand what medications people take. Bring anything else you might think would be helpful,” he said. “And bring a family member. Being in a doctors office, especially a new doctor, is always intimidating.”

Campbell said they’re expecting an increase in patients, and they are already seeing new patients on their schedules for January and February. They have not added staff, but instead will be promoting the use of the nurse call-in program to help keep people out of the waiting rooms who really don’t need to be there.