A good doctor is your first line of defense against illness and disease. Know what to look for so you can find one who’s right for you.
Choosing a primary care physician is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. A good relationship with a doctor is an equal partnership. You need to find a doctor you’re comfortable with. The two of you will work together to maintain your health, prevent illnesses and address any current concerns.
Why do I need a primary care doctor?
Having a regular primary care doctor is important for maintaining good health. Over time, your doctor will get to know you and may be able to spot potential warning signs faster than someone who doesn’t. A regular primary care doctor can also help you make decisions that are consistent with your values, lifestyle and habits. He or she can also coordinate care with other providers. This will help ensure that various treatments are compatible with each other and not needlessly repeated. A primary care doctor may also care for your whole family.
What to consider when choosing your doctor
Selecting a primary caregiver requires some thought. Depending on your situation, there are certain issues you may want to consider. For instance, do you prefer a doctor who:
- Accepts a certain insurance plan?
- Accepts Medicare or Medicaid?
- Is located near your home?
- Is of a certain age or gender?
- Speaks another language?
- Has similar values to your own?
Steps to take when choosing your primary care doctor
First, decide what qualities in a physician are most important to you. Next, ask friends and relatives to recommend doctors who may match your criteria. Call your local hospital and ask for their physician referral line. State and local medical societies can also help you locate a physician. Check their websites. Also, ask your insurance company for a list of network providers, if appropriate.
You may also be able to find some helpful references in your library. There are various published medical directories that can give you more doctors to look into. They can also help you verify that a certain physician is board certified in a particular specialty.
Once you find a doctor who interests you, call and speak with someone on the staff. Try finding out as much as you can before scheduling an appointment. Consider asking some of the following questions:
- Is the doctor taking new patients?
- Does the doctor accept my insurance and/or Medicare?
- What is the doctor’s education and qualifications?
- What are the doctor’s office hours?
- Does the doctor ever make house calls for housebound patients?
- At what hospital does the doctor admit patients?
- How soon can I make an appointment to see the doctor?
- How long does an average visit last?
- Who do I call if the doctor is away and I need medical attention?
- What are the office payment policies?
Your first visit
Once you’ve narrowed down your selection, you should schedule a preliminary visit to meet and review your health history. Before the meeting, write down any questions or concerns you may have. Having them on paper will help you get the information you need.
During your visit, gauge the quality of the interaction you have with the doctor. Do you feel this person is a good match for you? If so, arrange to have your medical records transferred to the clinic so the doctor can review them.
Working with your new doctor
It may take some time to find the right caregiver. But once you do, work with your doctor to develop a quality partnership. Your doctor should be the starting point for all your health care decisions. In the long run, this will help ensure you get the best care possible.