How to Choose a Physician
Choosing a personal or family physician can be a difficult task, but one that is important for you and your family. The relationship you establish with your physician is unique and one that may last a lifetime; he or she is usually the first person you turn to for information and professional advice about your medical care and general well being. During these times of changes in the health insurance industry, making sure that you have the right doctor is even more important.
Hopefully, the following points are helpful to you in making your choice. Of course, once you’ve made a choice, be sure to view our helpful sheet to confirm that you have your doctor’s PCP code for health plan enrollment purposes.
Different People Different Doctors
You, and each member of your family, should choose what is a called primary care physician (PCP). Many health plans even require that you do so. Your PCP will be responsible for managing your health, which may include:
- Annual examinations
- Routine illnesses
- Preventive health
- Management of chronic illness
- Determination of need and referral to a specialist.
Some PCPs specialize in medicine for patients of specific ages. Here are a few examples: general and family practitioners are trained in the full range of medicine including pediatrics and adult care; pediatricians specialize in children from birth to teens; internal medicine doctors (sometimes referred to as internists) specialize in adult medicine; and geriatric medicine doctors specialize in medicine for older adults.
In choosing a physician, a good place to start is with the people you know. Ask friends, relatives, coworkers and any medical professionals (nurses, dentists, pharmacists) for personal recommendations. Ask what doctors they see and whether they are happy with the care they receive. Ask as many questions as they'll answer, such as:
- Do you feel confident about his or her medical judgment?
- Does your doctor listen when you tell what's wrong? Or do you feel rushed?
- Does the doctor take enough time to explain your problem and treatment?
- Is your doctor easy to talk to? Are you comfortable discussing small worries or embarrassing problems?
- How long must you wait to get an appointment?
- Can you reach the doctor by telephone and can you get simple advice over the phone?
What follows are some other issues and questions to keep in mind.
More and more physicians these days are using the Internet to provide enhanced service to their clients. This service ranges from simple e-mail communication to online scheduling of appointments and prescription refills. Consider whether this is important to you, and if so be sure to ask any potential provider if he or she provides this service.
If English is not your native language, check to see if your doctor is bilingual. Many of the Alta Bates Medical Group physicians are part of bilingual practices.
A Large Medical Practice or a Small Office?
Choose the setting where you feel most comfortable. What is most important is that you receive excellent care and service from your physician and office staff.
Location, Location, Location
The location and office hours of your doctor’s office should be convenient and accessible so you can easily make and keep your appointments.
Your relationship with your PCP should be built on trust. It is important to be able to be open and honest with your doctor, and to trust him or her with your concerns.
Many doctors already have as many patients as they can handle. One of the first questions you should ask is whether a doctor is accepting new patients.
While you're there, make some observations about the office. For example, is the staff friendly, compassionate, knowledgeable and professional in manner and dress? These issues may seem trivial, but they can be an indication of how the practice is run.
Keep in mind that choosing a doctor is a very personal decision. The right one for you might be wrong for someone else, and vice-versa. Whether you’re choosing a doctor for the first time or changing physicians for you and your family, the process can be daunting. Be prepared to make the decision with care and planning so that the outcome provides the most fulfilling of relationships.