How to Choose a Primary Care Physician

How to Choose a Primary Care Physician

When selecting a primary care physician or a health care practitioner, it's important to choose a medical professional who works well with you and your health needs.

First decide what type of physician you need. For example, when selecting a doctor do you need one to help manage your overall healthcare and then refer you to a specialist? Or would you prefer choosing a doctor specializing in chronic illness?

Then check with your health insurance plan. It may confine your choice, putting limits on a group of plan-approved physicians. Always consider the terms in your plan. And if the doctor that you want does not participate in the program, check your out-of-pocket costs for the visit.In the U.S., most physicians are board certified.

The primary care physicians are board certified in family medicine and only see patients for routine ailments and regular checkups. Specialists see patients who need special procedures like a colonoscopy or help with a chronic condition.

List of Primary Care Doctors

A primary care physician will see patients for general health issues. When choosing a new primary care doctor, decide if you want:

  • General or family practitioner
  • Internist
  • Geriatrician
  • Pediatrician
  • Obstetrician/Gynecologist
  • Nurse practitioner

A family care doctor treats a wide range of medical problems and receives more training to care for all family members.Internists are doctors for adults and take more training to become specialists like a Cardiologist.Geriatricians receive training in family practice or internal medicine and receive additional preparation in caring for older people.Pediatricians treat and care for newborns, infants, children, and adolescents.Obstetricians/Gynecologists care for women, particularly those of childbearing age.Nurse practitioners and physician assistants receive different training and certification processes. In some physician practices, they are a patient’s principal contact.

Which doctor is best for you?

The best referral for any service comes through the people you know and trust. Another option is to ask for a referral from the local hospital, medical center, or medical school. Here are a few questions to ask your trusted support community when seeking a physician.

  • Can you recommend a physician/specialist?
  • Tell me what you like about them.
  • How long does it take to get an appointment and can you get one if you're really sick?

Medicare Plans

For patients who belong to a managed care plan, like a Medicare Advantage Plan, your choice is limited. If you go outside your health insurance plan, you'll pay a bigger share of the costs.Call to ask the plan's membership services to help you find available doctors in your area. For information, call the toll-free hotline at 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE) or visit making a list of physicians, call their offices. The physician's staff can give you information about her education and training. Get to know their practice guidelines, the insurance plans they take if they file the claims and what forms of payment they accept.

What to ask during your office visit, and other things to consider when selecting a physician:

  • Where is the office located and is it easy to find?
  • How long will the physician be with you during the visit? You'll want ample time. It's important that the doctor listens to your concerns, answers your questions in a way you understand.
  • Is the doctor in a group practice? If so, find out who the other doctors and health practitioners are and their specialties.
  • Where do you go to get lab work or x-rays?
  • Is the doctor board certified? (Board-certified have extra training and pass special exams after medical school to become specialists.)
  • Does the doctor treat those with your health problem?
  • Will the doctor take care of me if I go to the hospital?
  • Will they give written instructions on your care?
  • Are you willing to talk with my family about my condition, if I give my permission?

Once you leave the doctor's office:

  • Did you feel confident with the doctor?
  • Did you feel comfortable asking questions?
  • Did the doctor answer the questions?
  • Were you treated with respect?
  • Did you feel rushed and unable to ask all the questions you have?

Resources in choosing a doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

American College of Physicians

American Geriatrics Society

American Medical Association

American Osteopathic Association

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

Carol Marak is a contributor for the senior living and healthcare market.

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