Packing your belongings and moving across the country, state or even the city can be stressful enough on its own, even before you take into consideration finding a new healthcare provider. Luckily, newcomers to the Houston area quickly discover that the Bayou City has one of the most extensive and expansive healthcare networks in the country. With more than 80 hospitals in Harris County alone, and tens of thousands of doctors and nurses, there are a bevy of options available for whatever your healthcare needs may be.
But with so many choices, how do you begin to figure out what’s right for you?
First and foremost, it’s important to find a primary care doctor.
Primary care providers come in many different forms — family medicine physicians, internal medicine doctors, family nurse practitioners or physician assistants. They keep patients healthy by offering preventive care, such as vaccines and routine screenings, and by helping patients appropriately manage their chronic diseases, thus preventing expensive and debilitating complications down the road.
“Think of the primary care provider as the medical ‘home’ for the patient,” said Kristin Maddux, physician practice manager for Memorial Hermann Medical Group.
Despite the evidence that population health tends to improve in areas with more primary care doctors, approximately 2 million people in Houston alone don’t use them, according to a 2016 Commonwealth Fund Report.
“Primary care is not only the first stop for disease detection, it’s also your home for continuous prevention,” said Aneesa Karim, a physician practice manager for Memorial Hermann Medical Group. “A primary care provider knows your medical history and is able to customize a treatment plan for you, which can prevent costly ER visits by managing problems before they become severe.”
If you’re relocating to Houston and need a new primary care doctor, consider asking your current physician for a recommendation or referral. Then, do your research. Your insurance provider should be able to provide you with a list of physicians who accept your plan. In addition, physician profiles are usually available online so be sure to check out their credentials. Did he or she graduate from an accredited and respected medical school and complete residency at a respected hospital? Do they have any board certifications? Are they affiliated with a respected health system?
“Hospital affiliation is very important because it ensures quality and continuity of care for patients,” Karim said. “When looking for a hospital you should look for one that is accredited, has good patient experience scores and excellent patient quality outcomes.”
Make sure the doctor is right for you.
Recommendations from friends and family are helpful, but every patient’s preferences are unique and it’s important to find the doctor who suits you best.
Take the time to get to know the physician to ensure that he or she meets your specific needs. Is the office location convenient for you? Does your doctor speak to you in a way that you understand? Does he or she spend an adequate amount of time listening to your concerns and explaining your options? Who handles your doctor’s calls when he or she is not available?
“Everyone has different preferences. You might want someone who is able to see your whole family, while others might seek out a provider who has expertise treating a certain condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure. Still, other people may want someone who is close to their home or work, allowing for convenient appointments,” Karim said. “Whatever is the case, it’s important that you find someone whom you trust, have confidence in, and feel comfortable sharing sensitive information. That goes for the clinic staff as well.”
Having these records at the onset gives your new primary care doctor a good baseline understanding of your medical history and any ongoing concerns or issues you may have.
Your current doctor may be able to electronically forward along your information to a new provider, or you can request hard copies that you can bring along to your first appointment. (Never pack these records in a moving van – instead, carry them with you in a suitcase so that they are readily available in case of an emergency.)
It’s important to get copies of your children’s immunization records as well. These will be needed before your child can enroll in a new school.
For your first visit with your new provider, be sure to arrive early to fill out new patient registration paperwork and consent forms. It’s also a good idea to bring along all of your current medications to give your new doctor an accurate representation of what you are taking.
Look beyond the clinic.
Don’t wait until you need a hospital to select a good one.
Find a hospital in your community that offers a complete continuum of care and that is part of a comprehensive network that stretches across the sprawling region.
“I would look for a hospital that has a comprehensive list of services and is focused on quality outcomes,” Maddux said. “Also, a facility close to home is important especially in emergency situations.”
You may also want to consider selecting a facility that has physicians that are clinically integrated with the hospital, which allows for providers to share patient information with each other and allows for a more coordinated approach to patient care (which, in turn, can result in lower costs for patients).
And remember, not all cases need a trip to a hospital emergency center. Memorial Hermann has a vast network of care sites – from Convenient Care Centers to Urgent Cares to RediClinics – each tailored for different needs.
“That’s one of the best benefits of living in the Houston area – there are lots of wonderful options for getting the right medical care you need close to your home,” Maddux said.
Relocating to Houston and want to learn more about your healthcare options? Check out Memorial Hermann’s comprehensive network of providers and care sites.