Finding a family physician that fits your needs can be akin to shopping – sometimes it’s not the right fit, the experience can be overpriced, or you often have to wait too long (at the cash register). As a patient, you have every right to ask questions before you have your official doctor appointment. Your health and money aren’t things you, or any patient, should take lightly – and neither should your primary care physician.
Many new patients are too trusting of their physicians which can sometimes result in dissatisfaction. To ensure you’re getting the quality care you deserve, we’ve come up with ten questions you should feel comfortable asking your prospective doctor.
10 Questions to Ask at a First Doctor Appointment
Before your health, you should first develop a good relationship with your doctor. Communication and trust are key. If you don’t know your doctor, it will be harder for them to assist you in making medical decisions based on your values and lifestyle. We urge you to consider these questions:
1. Will I Get to See You When I Come In?
Sounds like a joke, right? Unfortunately, some doctors’ schedules catch up to them throughout the day forcing them to send an NP or PA there to cover. While NPs and PAs are trained in what they do, they don’t have the same qualifications as a doctor.
No patient wants to feel like they drew the short straw at their doctor’s appointment. So above anything, we suggest asking this question right off the bat. It’s sad that patients even have to ask, but that’s how hectic hospitals and clinics are nowadays.
2. How long will I have to wait to get an appointment?
While it’s unlikely a patient will be able to schedule an appointment with their primary care clinic the day of, patients shouldn’t have to schedule appointments a year in advance either. So, really ask yourself how long you should wait for a doctor appointment. This is important to ask your doctor about, as it’s a pain to know your entire schedule months ahead.
3. Are you board certified? In what?
What does this mean, exactly? “Board Certified” means doctors who took on extra training after medical school. To be board certified, doctors also have to pass an exam certifying their expertise in the given area. For example, a family physician can specialize in family medicine. Other doctors also specialize in fields like general internal medicine, gynecology, orthopedics, geriatrics, etc.
If you care about qualification, this is the right kind of question to ask. While being board certified can tell you about a doctor’s medical expertise, it won’t give you answers about your doctor’s communication skills. Whether you’ve discovered this firsthand or not, communication skills may be just as important.
4. How long can I spend with you at each visit?
Asking this question not only helps you get a better sense of how to plan your day, but it also helps you to know exactly how much time you’ll have to address further concerns or questions you may have about your health.
A personable family physician won’t kick you out until you feel you’ve covered everything. You want to avoid, however, the doctors that stick to too tight of a schedule – the ones that will excuse you regardless of whether or not they’ve addressed all your pressing questions.
5. Will you be able to tell me how much things cost? For example, things like prescriptions, procedures, x-rays, strep tests, etc.?
Unfortunately, not all doctors take the time to see how much prescriptions, physical exams, or other procedures will cost. They will order the prescription or run the test and just assume your insurance will cover it. That assumption only gets them so far when sooner than later, you’re paying out of pocket for a costly procedure unbeknownst to you.
6. How hard is it to talk to you during the day or after hours? Do you text or use email? Are you the one answering these messages?
It’s important to get in contact with your doctor when convenient for you – obviously, your primary care physician might be unable to tend to every call or email as they typically run busy schedules. Yet, your doctor should still make you a priority. Some doctors with hundreds and hundreds of patients often forget about each one the second they walk out their office door, and move on to the next number in line.
7. Can I meet you first (without charge) and see if we're a good fit?
Not all practices offer this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask about meeting with your prospective doctor (free of charge). Scheduling this first doctor’s appointment will give you enough information to decide whether or not this is going to be a successful doctor-patient relationship.
If a practice does offer this, don’t overlook it. You might be thankful for that one-on-one time down the road.
8. Will my information be private or will it be shared with the government, the electronic medical record company or anyone else?
A good family physician will sit down with you and discuss what’s private and what’s required of them from the government or medical record companies. On a general note, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) typically requires doctors to keep patients’ medical information confidential.
There are some cases, however, when the government requires doctors to report certain data points. For example, doctors are required to file birth and death certificates, report certain diseases (so the government can analyze the nation’s overall health), or use patients’ information to protect the public (in case of a bad flu outbreak).
9. Will you be my advocate when dealing with specialists or insurance companies?
Both patients and doctors know insurance companies can be a pain to deal with. Yet, it’s harder for the patient to put up a good fight, which is why you should lay the hard questions down on your prospective doctor.
Ask whether or not they’re willing to stand up for you in case of unnecessary fees or denied coverage for a certain treatment. A good doctor will put you first, even if that means going head to head with a pesky insurance company.
10. Will you have to work on the computer during my entire visit?
Don’t feel intimidated by this question. You deserve to know how your doctor is going to use their time while you’re in their presence. Be straightforward about it. As busy as a doctor’s schedule is, you’re not there to have your time wasted, either.
So, if the physician feels inclined to keep their eyes locked on the computer during your entire doctor appointment, make it known that you require more attentive care. If the prospective doctor doesn’t feel that this is a problem, then move along. Find a primary care physician who does care.
Get All Your Questions Answered at Elevated Health
Here at Elevated Health in Huntington Beach, California, we put our patients first – this means being completely transparent and answering any questions you may have. It’s normal to have questions, and our top-trained doctors understand this. We want what’s best for you, and promise to find you the perfect fit for your health needs.
Because we offer direct primary care, our physicians have fewer patients, making you top priority. By joining Elevated Health, you won’t ever be scared for another doctor appointment!
About the Author
Matthew Abinante is a board-certified family physician providing direct primary care to patients of all ages. Offering excellent care, diagnosis, and techniques, he continually participates in educational opportunities to best serve his patients. Working in Huntington Beach, he analyzes common aches and pains, proposes innovative treatment plans, and provides specialized services for each individual patient.
After excelling for years, Matthew received his DO and MPH from Touro University in Vallejo, CA. Matthew completed his residency training at PIH Health Hospital in Downey, CA, where he became a board-certified and trusted family physician who values patient-doctor relationships and clear communication.