Your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important relationships you will ever have. That’s because your doctor is your own personal good-health expert—the person you trust to treat you when you’re sick, provide preventive care to keep you healthy, remind you of important screenings and immunizations, and refer you to specialists if you need them.
Your doctor should be your partner in good health. For best results, your relationship with your doctor should be long-term. So choose this person carefully. It’s important to find a doctor you like, who will treat you well through the years.
Starting your search
The first step in finding a primary care doctor is to determine what type of doctor you need. You have several options:
- General practitioners—doctors who treat a wide range of medical problems in people of all ages.
- Family practitioners—similar to general practitioners, these doctors have additional training to care for all family members, young and old.
- Internists—doctors who focus on the care of adults, and who may specialize in one particular area, such as cardiology or rheumatology.
- Obstetricians/gynecologists—these doctors often serve as primary care doctors for women, especially those of child-bearing age.
- Pediatricians—doctors who specialize in the care of newborns, infants, children, and adolescents.
- Geriatricians—doctors who care for older adults.
If you have health insurance or belong to a managed health plan, check to see if it maintains a list of preferred (or “in-network”) health care providers. Preferred providers are health care professionals who have partnered with your insurance plan to deliver services at reduced rates. You’ll want to choose a doctor that participates in your plan (look in the plan’s handbook or on its website) unless you can afford to pay extra.
Some health plans and health care facilities offer doctor profiles on their websites. These profiles can tell you about a doctor’s education, work history, office location, and more. Additional online resources include the “Doctorfinder” feature of the American Medical Association (AMA)’s website and www.healthfinder.gov from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers are yet another good source for recommendations. Co-workers are especially helpful because they have the same health insurance and access to providers that you do.
Whatever methods you use to search for a new doctor, be sure to jot down a list of names so you have several options to choose from if your first choice is not accepting new patients.
Few things are as important as your health, so you’ll want yours to be in good hands. You can check on a doctor’s skills and experience using the Doctorfinder feature of the AMA’s website, which provides information about a doctor’s training, specialties, and whether or not the doctor is board certified.
“Board-certified” doctors have completed training in a specialty and passed an exam to certify their knowledge and skills in that specialty. To maintain their certification, doctors must enroll in continuing education courses and pass periodic exams. Keep in mind that although board certification is a good indicator of a doctor’s knowledge, it is not imperative and many people receive quality care from doctors who are not board certified. Visit the American Board of Medical Specialties website or call 1-800-776-2378 for more information.
More to come . . .
There you have it—some good first steps to take when looking for a new doctor. Come back next Tuesday for Part 2 of this article, when we’ll conclude with two more important steps: interviewing prospects and evaluating your first visit. See you then!