If you’re uninsured, you may be able to negotiate with a doctor and agree on a reduced fee, but remember that you will also be responsible for the cost of lab tests, blood work, X-rays, procedures and medications. These costs are more likely to be covered or charged on a sliding scale at a community health center or hospital clinic. (To find a location, seewww.hrsa.gov under “Find Help,” or the Families USA Web site, www .familiesusa.org, under “Resources for Consumers.”)
Other factors to consider are whether the doctor has evening and weekend hours, whether the office leaves time open to schedule same-day appointments for urgent care, whether waiting times are reasonable and whether the doctor is in solo practice or a group practice. (Some experts say that group practices tend to be more efficient and that doctors in groups are more likely to stay up to date on current medical practice.) If the doctor uses electronic records, that’s a plus, some experts say.
On the crucial question of whether you are comfortable with the doctor you’ve chosen, you won’t know that until you meet with the doctor. Pediatricians will usually agree to an interview; busy internists often won’t.
Some physicians are posting video clips of themselves on the HealthGrades Web site, so patients can get a feel for their personal style; Angie’s List (angieslist.com) has started consumer ratings of A to F for doctors; and Consumers’ Checkbook (checkbook.org) provides detailed consumer ratings of physicians in seven metropolitan areas. (All of these sites require payment.)