When you're feeling sick and scared, you need a doctor you can trust. Choosing the right doctor for you and your family is an important step in managing your healthcare. So whether you’re moving to a new area and need to find local care, or your present doctor is retiring, here are a few helpful tips for finding the right doctor.

1. What Are Your Personal Preferences?

Some people choose a doctor randomly, or they let their health insurance provider select a primary care doctor for them. This can work. But if you’re looking to establish a long-term relationship with a doctor, you should be involved in the decision process.

There’s likely a long list of local doctors to choose from. To make your search easier, it’s important to understand what you’re looking for in a doctor. Your needs and expectations might be different from another person’s. Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Does the doctor have offices close to my home or work?
  • Do I prefer a male or a female doctor? Younger, or older?
  • Does the doctor’s office have evening or weekend hours to accommodate my schedule?
  • Is the doctor affiliated with the hospitals I prefer?
  • Is he or she on my insurance’s preferred provider network?
  • What options would I like for communicating with my doctor remotely?

2. Keep Your Health Insurance in Mind

Even if you have a well-known health insurance plan and excellent coverage, there's no guarantee the doctor will accept your plan. So once you have a particular doctor in mind, call the doctor’s office and confirm whether the office accepts patients with your health insurance. To avoid any surprises or unexpected bills, you should also call your health insurance provider to make sure the doctor is part of your network. Going to a doctor or medical facility outside the network can trigger out-of-network fees.

It’s also important to remember that even though you have health insurance, you might have to pay some of your healthcare costs out of pocket. Depending on your plan, you might be required to pay a copayment for each office visit. And if your plan has a deductible, you’ll have to pay this amount annually (out of pocket) before your insurance company starts paying for coverage.

If you don’t have health insurance, make sure the doctor you choose accepts patients without health insurance. Ask about the cost of an office visit and routine tests, such as lab work and X-rays. Does the doctor offer discounts to uninsured patients? Will the doctor require full upfront payment for each visit, or can you set up a payment arrangement? You can also ask about medical discount plans accepted by the doctor, which are cheaper than actual health insurance, helping you save on healthcare costs.

3. Primary Care Doctor or Specialist?

Before looking for a doctor, decide whether you need a primary care doctor or a specialist. Some people choose a primary care doctor as their first line for medical care. These doctors have knowledge of various conditions and ailments. A primary care doctor can order lab work and other tests, diagnose a condition, and start your initial treatment. Depending on the diagnosis and the severity of your condition, your primary care doctor can refer you to a specialist for additional care.

Specialists are physicians who have additional training in a specific topic in medicine, such as cardiology or urology. People may want to see a specialist if they need treatment focused on a particular disease or condition.

4. Do Your Research

Plenty of resources are available to help you find the right doctor. If you need a specialist, you can ask your primary care doctor for a referral. Just know that your doctor will most likely refer you to a specialist within their circle. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not the only way to find a doctor.

You have to be proactive about your health, so it’s okay to ask people you know for recommendations. This can include your relatives, friends, neighbors, or co-workers. If they’ve experienced similar health problems, which doctors did they visit? Were they happy with the level of care? Was the doctor knowledgeable and up to date on the latest treatments? Learning about their experiences can help you decide.

You can also take advantage of online resources. Websites like DocFinder, ZocDoc, HealthGrades, or your state’s board of medicine lets you search doctors by name, location, or specialty. You can check a doctor’s ratings, verify credentials, and find information on their locations, hours, and accepted insurance plans.

5. Take a Trip to the Doctor’s Office

The truth is, you won’t know if you like a doctor’s style until you visit the office. After choosing a doctor, schedule an appointment and then decide whether you can see yourself as a long-term patient.

Evaluate your experience. Was the office staff professional? Did the office seem unorganized and chaotic, or was the check-in process smooth and the wait brief? Did you have to wait several days to get an appointment, or can the office offer same day appointments? Was the doctor personable and concerned about your illness? Or did they dismiss your concerns and rush the appointment?

You should never feel like a number or unimportant. If you’re not happy or comfortable with a doctor after one or two visits, listen to your gut and choose another provider.

Choosing a doctor is a complex process. But if you know what you're looking for, and if you research and listen to your instinct, you can find a doctor who’s a good fit for you and your family.