Choosing a Family Doctor


What is a family doctor?
A family doctor is a doctor who takes care of the whole family.  Family doctors create caring relationships with patients and their families.  They really get to know their patients.  They listen to them and help them make the right health care decisions.
What do family doctors do?

A family doctor is your main health care provider in non-emergency situations.  Your family doctor's role is to:
  • Provide preventive care and teach healthy lifestyle choices
  • Identify and treat common medical conditions
  • Assess the urgency of your medical problems and direct you to the best place for that care
  • Make referrals to medical specialists when necessary
Family doctors take care of the physical, mental and emotional health of both their patients and their patients' families.  They know your family's health history and how it can affect you.  They are trained to care for you through all the stages of your life.
Family doctors are trained in all areas of medicine.  They can diagnose and treat the full range of problems people usually bring to their doctors.  They know when to treat you and if necessary, when to bring in another specialist you can trust.
Family medicine is usually provided in an outpatient setting.  However, if you are admitted to the hospital, your family doctor may assist in or direct your care, depending on the circumstances.
What kind of training do family doctors have?
Family doctors know the most current treatments and technologies.  They train for 3 years in real practice settings, treating patients in the office, the hospital and at home.  And they re-certify more than in any other medical specialty.  Family doctors also continue to educate themselves.  This allows them to apply the latest medical breakthroughs to the everyday care of their patients.
I don't have any health problems.  Why do I need a family doctor?

Family doctors are specially trained in preventive medicine.  They believe that preventing a health problem is better than having to overcome one.  They help you make the right health choices to keep you and your family healthy.
How do I find a family doctor?
If you are looking for a family doctor, try talking to your friends and family.  Once you have the names of a few doctors, call their offices to get more information.  Some things that you should ask include:
  • Do they accept your insurance?
  • What are the office hours?
  • What hospital does the doctor use?
  • How many doctors are in the practice?
Once you find a doctor who meets your needs, schedule an appointment so that you can meet and talk to the doctor.  During the appointment, make sure:
  • You are comfortable talking to the doctor.
  • The doctor answers all your questions.
  • The doctor explains things so that you can understand.
  • You had enough time to ask all your questions.
When choosing a PCP, also consider the following:
  • Is the office staff friendly and helpful?  Is the office good about returning calls?
  • Are the office hours convenient to your schedule?
  • How easy is it to reach the provider?
  • Do you prefer a provider whose communication style is friendly and warm, or more formal?
  • Do you prefer a provider focused on disease treatment, or wellness and prevention?
  • Does the provider have a conservative or aggressive approach to treatment?
  • Does the provider order a lot of tests?
  • Does the provider refer to other specialists frequently or infrequently?
  • What do colleagues and patients say about the provider?
  • Does the provider invite you to be involved in your care?  Does the provider view your patient-doctor relationship as a true partnership?
You can get referrals from:
  • Friends, neighbors, or relatives
  • State-level medical associations, nursing associations, and associations for physician assistants
  • Your dentist, pharmacist, optometrist, previous provider, or other health professional
  • Advocacy groups -- especially to help you find the best provider for a specific chronic condition or disability
  • Many health plans, such as HMOs or PPOs, have websites, directories, or customer service staff who can help you select a PCP who is right for you
Another option is to request an appointment to "interview" a potential provider.  There may be no cost to do this, or you may be charged a co-payment or other small fee.  Some practices, particularly pediatric practice groups, may have an open house where you have an opportunity to meet several of the providers in that particular group.

If you do not currently have a primary health care provider and a health care problem arises, it is usually best to seek non-emergency care from an urgent care center rather than a hospital emergency room.  This will often save you time and money.

Remember, it takes time to build a relationship with your doctor.


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