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Before considering a new doctor online or in person, always review your insurance. Every plan is different, and no one wants to find the perfect doctor in the perfect location only to discover their insurance doesn’t work with the doctor’s practice.
Many insurance providers offer specialized search features through their websites. These won’t do all the work for you, but they can help you find doctors your plan covers. This helps ensure you don’t waste time researching a lot of practices and professionals you won’t be able to afford.
The search function on your insurer’s website may provide extra, useful information that will make the next steps of your doctor hunt easier. Look over the search parameters for things like specialties, gender, and certifications. You may be able to limit search results to doctors who are currently accepting new patients, speak certain languages, etc.
It’s important to check the fine print of your policy for potential problems as well. Do you need to make special arrangements with your insurance provider before changing primary care physicians? If you’re seeking a specialist, review your policy details first. In order for your insurance to cover the visit, tests, and other care you may receive, you may need a referral from your primary care provider before you even schedule an appointment
Once you know the options and limits of your insurance, consider what you want from your doctor. Many women feel more comfortable with female doctors. Are you comfortable with a nurse practitioner as your primary care provider, or do you want a certified doctor? Although the physical distance isn’t a big issue for an online doctor, you may prefer a medical expert familiar with your region’s common health problems. If you have preexisting conditions, the best primary care physicians will probably have some previous experience or special training pertaining to your situation.
For ease of access, many patients prefer working with primary care providers and specialists in the same network or system. This makes it easier to access online health records and ensures all health care providers have access to your medical history.
Make a list of all your preferences and keep it handy throughout your search.
Doctors have limited hours and availability. That’s why it’s important to consider more than one while searching for an online doctor. As you research, develop a shortlist of top candidates. Keep tabs on what each offers that you like, and be honest about any hesitations you have.
If the exact specialist you want isn’t available, but you really like their service style and record, consider other doctors from the same practice or online service portal. They have the same tools as the other doctor you liked, and they probably follow similar procedures.
It’s a good idea to have at least five doctors and/or online services on your shortlist. It’s always a good idea to have secondary options available.
See what other patients have to say about the online doctors you’ve short-listed. Is there a star rating system? Have the reviews been verified? Pay attention to the types of services patients describe, and not just their personal impressions. For example, did they choose online visits for a doctor they already see in person or was this their first contact? Does the doctor offer regular appointments, do they provide services as needed, or do they provide one-time visits?
Check the reviews against your list of preferences and needs. See if the doctor can provide prescriptions online, takes remote therapy appointments, has on-call hours for emergencies, etc. Compare what they claim to provide against previous patients’ experience. Are they efficient, or will you end up sitting on hold half the afternoon waiting for your appointment? Have other patients had billing issues with their insurance?
Sometimes, practices respond to online reviews. If they do a good job presenting solutions and apologizing for errors, that may be a sign they’ve improved a previous problem area. Follow-up is important, after all, especially with a doctor.
Once you’ve double-checked your insurance and found a suitable online doctor who meets your list of requirements, it’s time to actually make an appointment. Call or message your chosen doctor’s practice first to triple-check insurance compatibility and/or to discuss private payment options. Some online doctors may have a chat application or email for questions.
Scheduling online is designed to be as easy as possible, but there is still a lot of legal and ethical red tape when setting up a new patient appointment. Set aside some time for paperwork and questionnaires. Pay attention to notices about technology standards and compatibility. Does your phone or laptop have the right operating system? Do you need a special app to participate in your appointment? You may need to download a custom program or a common video conferencing tool before your scheduled appointment time. Just as you have to plan ahead to drive to the physical doctor’s office, you should plan ahead to ensure you’re ready for an online consultation.
Finding an online doctor is all about embracing available search tools and staying flexible. There are a growing number of doctors and practices specializing in remote appointments, so you have more options every month. Just remember to be patient with your search and always ask questions. The right doctor is waiting.
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