The right way to switch doctors

The decision to move to a new medical practice can be awkward, but it doesn't have to be too complicated. Here are the steps to take:

Give your current doctor a chance. If he doesn't know there's a problem with him or his office staff, he can't try to fix it.

Find a new doctor before leaving your old one. You never want to be without medical care; health problems can appear very suddenly. To find someone new, you can interview candidates, ask for recommendations from family and friends and learn which practices take your insurance.

Notify your doctor. You can do this either orally or in writing. Consider giving the reasons you are leaving, whether it's poor communication, lengthy waits for appointments, rude staff members or rushed visits. You may help other patients avoid the same problems.

Notify your insurance company. If you are in a managed-care plan and changing primary-care providers, the company needs to know right away. Call your plan's customer-service number.

Have all your medical records transferred. You may have to ask for them in person so you can sign a release form, but forms generally can be hand-delivered, faxed, e-mailed or mailed to the new doctor's office. There may be a fee for printed copies. Find out the expected delivery time and follow up to make sure they've arrived.

Make a get-to-know-you appointment. Even if you're not sick, open the lines of communication with your new doctor as soon as possible.

Don't trash your old doctor. This may be off-putting to your new doctor. However, it's fine to tell him or her what you're looking for in a physician that you haven't found before.