Finding a doctor can be tough these days, and it's going to be getting even harder if the new report that half of primary care docs want to cut back or quit practicing altogether is any indication. Here's advice gleaned from doctors around the country on how to work the system and find medical care when you need it:
1. Call your local hospitals. They often have free physician-referral services, and can tell you which doctors who have privileges there are taking new patients.
2. Work your way through your insurer's list of physicians. Unfortunately, these lists are often out of date, and it can take hours of calling to find doctors who are accepting patients. (Click here to follow my frustrating experience trying to find a doc in Washington, D.C., which is not exactly short on M.D.'s .)
3. If you live near a medical school, check out clinics affiliated with the school. They often use medical residents to help provide primary care and may have more openings.
4. Check out online doc finders, but be aware, some charge the physicians for listings. Lists from state agencies or medical professional societies will cast a broader net. The American Medical Association's Doctor Finder provides just AMA members first, but then gives you the option of finding nonmembers as well. A search for internists near my parents' home in Southern Oregon found three AMA members, then 69 doctors who are not members.
5. For routine care like a strep-throat test or flu shot, consider visiting one of the retail clinics in pharmacies and grocery stores. They're often open nights and weekends, and are particularly appealing to people who are younger, don't have chronic illnesses, and are uninsured. U.S. News's Michelle Andrews checked this out recently and found that a third of retail clinic customers don't have insurance, compared with 10 percent of patients who see a primary care doctor.