Finding a Doctor in a New City

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By Lisandranette Rios

You should be going to the doctor at least once year, twice if you’re a lady–because let’s face it, many of us are not eating that daily apple.

All you have to do is start by choosing between the student health care center on campus or a doctor in the local community.

Don’t be dramatic and show up to the emergency room because you have cold that won’t go away. Seriously, leave urgent care and emergency room visits for actual emergencies.

The student health care centers on most campuses are super convenient for your gas tank and schedule. You’re probably paying for healthcare through tuition and fee charges anyway, so  consider going there before trying to find a private healthcare provider.

The good news is, you won’t be paying out of pocket for a general wellness checkup or a doctor’s visit when you are sick.

However, student health centers at universities do not provide all services for free. Just check out the list of services on its website to see what they’d charge you for. Generally, things like tests, prescriptions and procedures are usually not covered.

Pam Roe, the strategic communications associate at the University of Missouri Student Health Center, says students should consider that they have to pay out of pocket for services with a doctor in the community compared to going to a student health care center.

“The only thing about that is, most of those [community providers] you’re going to have to pay out of pocket for,” Roe says. “I know finances are a huge concern to college students.”

But if you’re younger than 26 and under your parent’s health insurance plan, you can get a chunk of the fees covered or sometimes even full coverage at both the student health care centers or a local community doctor.

LaTasha Seliby, M.D., who works at the student health care center at Georgetown University, says you should always have an annual visit with a physician. Ladies, go for two visits because that annual trip to the gynecologist doesn’t cut it for a general wellness exam.

Seliby says that some people will schedule annual visits at a time that’s easy to remember.

“A lot of people pick their birthday month as the month they go every single year,” Seliby says.

Danielle Colson, who graduated from Duke University in May, said it was a pain to get care at the student health care center when she had to find a doctor after she woke up with an infection on her face.

Colson said she had trouble finding an infectious disease doctor in the community. She had to get a referral from the doctor at the student health care center.

For regular visits like getting prescriptions filled for a cold, she said she’d rather go to the CVS Minute Clinic than go to the student health center.

“It’s a lot quicker and easier to get an appointment,” Colson said.

If you want to see a doctor in the community instead of on campus, follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to picking the right doctor:

Call the number on your health insurance card

You can have your insurance company email you a list of doctors who take your insurance. If you don’t have insurance, you could pay out of pocket, but look for a doctor who has sliding scale options so you pay less. If cost is a deterrent, consider low-cost clinics in your area.

Google is your friend

When you move to a new city or aren’t thrilled with your current doctor, Google can come in handy then, too. There are reviews of doctors on sites like—it’s like Yelp for doctors.

Harness the power of word of mouth

Never underestimate the value of word of mouth. Ask around—students in your dorm and in your social clubs and organizations have probably had to go to the doctor at some point, and at the very least might be able to tell you who they recommend (or who to avoid). Another option is to ask for referrals from students who are from the area.
Online referrals can prove just as useful. Facebook can be a great tool for finding healthcare providers—there are recommendation pages for healthcare groups and hospitals in many of the cities in which there are universities. Don’t forget to read the reviews.

Find out your confidentiality rights

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, if you do not sign the authorization form, doctors cannot disclose information about your health or health care to your parents. However, if you use your parents’ insurance for any of your care needs, details about the care you received may show up on the insurance bill. Call your insurance company and ask what its specific policy is on confidentiality.

Be ready for the first appointment

So you’ve scoured the Internet, asked a couple friends, and made some phone calls, and now you’ve got an appointment in your calendar. Roe, who is the strategic communications associate at the University of Missouri Student Health Center, says to write questions down in preparation for your first appointment. It’s hard to transition to being an advocate for your own well-being when you’re no longer under your parents’ roof, so don’t be afraid to take responsibility for your health by being involved during your office visits—and bringing questions for the doctor.

You can repeat what the doctor is saying to confirm that you understand what is being said.

“As a patient, you have responsibilities as well,” Roe says.

Know your family’s health history, like any chronic illness or serious conditions. Bring along your immunization records and any surgeries you’ve had. If you had a doctor at your hometown, you can have the office transfer that information to your new doctor’s office.

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