Choosing the Right Physician

For your primary care physician/doctor, you might want a general or family practitioner, an internist, or a geriatrician.

  • General practitioners provide health care for a wide range of medical problems. They do not focus on any one area of medicine.
  • Family practitioners are similar to general practitioners, with extra training to focus on health care for all family members, regardless of age.
  • An internist is a doctor for adults. Some internists take additional training to become specialists. For example, cardiologists are internists who specialize in diseases of the heart.
  • Geriatricians specialize in the care of older adults. A geriatrician is trained in family practice or internal medicine, but has additional training in caring for older people.

Finding a New Doctor
Once you have a sense of what you want in a doctor, ask people you know about doctors they use and like. Friends, coworkers, and other health professionals may be helpful. You can make it easy for them to tell you about the doctors they like by asking questions, such as, “What do you like about Dr. Smith?”

A doctor whose name comes up often might be a strong possibility as a choice. It may help to have several names to choose from in case the doctor you select is not taking new patients or does not take part in your health insurance plan.

If you belong to a managed care plan, you can get a list of doctors from the plan’s membership services office. Your choices will be limited to those doctors who are part of the plan.

If you need more help finding names of doctors, contact your hospital of choice, local medical society, local physician referral services, nearby medical schools, university medical centers in your area, call (1-888-581-3124) for a leading business service, or go to our business services link.

How Do You Make an Informed Choice?
Once you have chosen two or three doctors, call their offices. The office staff can give you information about the doctor’s education and training. They also can tell you about office policies, standard insurance the office takes, payment methods, and the doctor’s hospital admitting privileges.

You may want to make an appointment just to talk with a doctor before deciding on a
final choice. Make sure that she or he knows that you are trying to decide on a doctor. You likely will be charged for such a visit; your insurance company may not pay for it.

Make a list of questions you want to ask the doctor. For example:

  • What age groups make up most of your practice?
  • How do you manage patients with lots of health problems? Do you usually treat everything, do you refer patients?
  • What’s the best way for me to prepare for an office visit with you? For example, should I bring my questions in writing?
  • Would you provide your instructions in writing for me?
  • May I bring a family member (spouse, daughter, or son) to my office visits with you?
  • If I give you permission, are you comfortable talking with my family about my condition?
  • How do you involve your patients in health care decisions?
  • Do you see many patients with the same chronic health problem that I have (for example, diabetes)?

After the meeting, ask yourself if you felt comfortable and confident with this doctor. Were you at ease asking questions? Did the doctor clearly answer your questions? If you are not sure, schedule a visit with one of the other doctors on your list.

The First Appointment
After choosing a doctor, make your first medical appointment. During this visit, the doctor will probably take a medical history and ask questions about your health. There may be questions about the health of your family members as well. The doctor also will examine you. Be sure to bring your past medical records (or have them sent). Also bring all of the medicines you take with you to show the doctor. Include both prescription and over-the counter drugs, even vitamins, supplements, and eye drops. Make a list of any drug allergies or serious drug reactions you’ve had. During this visit take time to ask any questions you may still have about the doctor and the practice.

Once you have found a doctor you like, your job is not finished. A good doctor-patient relationship is a partnership. Both you and your doctor need to work together to solve your medical problems and maintain your good health. Finding a medical practice that is well suited to your needs is an important first step. Good communication with the doctor and the office staff is the key. [back] [pick a state]

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