A family doctor is usually the first professional you consult when you need medical care. Family physicians and general practitioners are skilled at diagnosing a range of illnesses and can treat many of a patient’s medical conditions without the need for a specialist’s help. Your family doctor can be a valuable source of information when you have health-related questions. In fact, “family physicians provide the majority of care to the nation’s rural populations,” says Lori Heim, President of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Contact a hospital near where you live. Ask if it offers a family practice clinic. Inquire as to whether any of the doctors who practice there are accepting new patients. You can also ask your pharmacist, dentist, ophthalmologist, chiropractor or other people you trust for the names of their family physicians. Another medical authority is apt to know more about a doctor’s reputation by way of a shared professional relationship.
Ask around to learn more about a doctor’s reputation. Talk to family members, friends, co-workers, the cashier at the supermarket or your pastor at church. Find out if they are satisfied with the medical care they receive from their family physicians. When someone you know recommends a physician, ask if she has been a patient or knows someone who has.
Get more than one person’s opinion about the same doctor. You can learn a lot about a doctor from the personal experiences of others. If you like what you hear, schedule an appointment to find out if a doctor might be a good fit for you.
Look for a doctor’s diplomas on the wall at your visit. Choose someone who has extensive experience. Relevant questions you might ask include how long a physician has been in practice and how many patients he has treated and is currently treating.
Do your research. Begin by contacting the county medical society for a list of physicians who practice in your area. Check with the American Board of Family Medicine to see if a physician of interest has the appropriate credentials (see Resources). Look for a board-certified physician. A doctor need not be board certified to be a good doctor, yet many physicians become board certified in at least one area of specialty. Consider a physician who is board certified in family medicine.
Look for key qualities such as amiability, availability and affordability. Once you have a list of potential doctors, meet with each to decide whether you like the person. You may be relying on this individual often throughout your lifetime, so you need to choose a doctor with whom you can develop a good rapport. Ask if you will be able to see the doctor when you need her. Find out how long you must wait to schedule a routine appointment or wellness visit. Don’t be afraid to discuss fees. Many doctors will try to find ways to help if they know that a patient is experiencing financial difficulties.
Get additional pertinent information, including whether a doctor is a member of your health plan. Learn with which hospitals the physician is affiliated and how he handles calls after office hours. If you strongly prefer a physician who is not a direct provider on your health plan and you can afford partial payment, your insurance may still pay a portion of his fee.