Choosing a Health Care Provider
Choosing a doctor or other health care provider is very important. The relationship you have with your health care provider greatly influences the health decisions you make and, ultimately, your health.
Whether you are looking for a primary care doctor or a specialist, it's important to find a doctor you can partner with. A strong partnership between you and your doctor is key to getting great care and reducing costs. When you have many doctors, think of them as part of your health care team. Ask your doctors to communicate with each other about your care.
What types of providers may be a good choice?
A primary care doctor who understands your needs, such as a family medicine doctor or an internist, can be a valuable partner for your health care. A primary care doctor is very important for helping to coordinate your care, especially if you are seeing different specialists for multiple health problems.
For most people, a board-certified family medicine doctor or an internist is a good choice for primary care. For children and teens, a board-certified pediatrician or family medicine doctor is a good choice. Family doctors, internists, and pediatricians have knowledge about many common medical problems.
Some women prefer to use a gynecologist as their primary care doctor. Gynecologists are doctors who specialize in the female reproductive system.
Some people choose a "mid-level" provider, such as a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner. These providers can diagnose and treat many basic health problems, and they often partner with a doctor as part of a health care team.
Medical specialists are doctors who have completed advanced education and clinical training in a specific area of medicine (their specialty area). A doctor becomes board-certified by completing training in a specialty area and passing an exam. To keep this certification, doctors must take continuing medical education courses and pass periodic exams.
How can you find a health care provider?
You can ask friends or family to recommend a doctor. Or it may be helpful to ask another health care professional, such as a nurse or a doctor you've seen before.
These websites may be helpful for finding a health care provider:
- www.ama-assn.org (American Medical Association)
- www.facs.org (American College of Surgeons)
What questions should you ask?
Think about what you are looking for in a doctor. Find out whether the doctor is well-trained and experienced, available when needed, and willing to work with you as a partner.
Before you choose a doctor, call or visit his or her office. Tell the receptionist that you are looking for a new doctor. Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- Is the doctor accepting new patients?
- Is the doctor board-certified?
- Where did the doctor get his or her education and training?
- Which hospitals does the doctor work with?
- Who fills in for the doctor when he or she isn't available?
- Does the doctor belong to my health insurance plan, and will the office bill my insurance for me?
- What types of patients does the doctor see?
What can you do during your first visit?
During your first visit, tell your doctor that you would like to share in making treatment decisions. Pay attention to how you feel during the visit. Think about these questions:
- Does the doctor listen well and answer your questions?
- Does the doctor use terms you can understand and explain things clearly?
- Does the doctor spend enough time with you?
- Can you build a good working relationship with the doctor?
- Does the doctor encourage you to take an active part in your care?
Talk with your doctor about being a partner in your health decisions. It may take more than one visit for you to find out whether or not you can partner well with your doctor.