Choosing a Family Doctor – What You Need to Know

Choosing a Family Doctor – What You Need to Know
  • Opening Intro -

    When it comes to finding yourself a family doctor in the US, there’s lots to think about; and you should think about it, as it will probably be one of the most important decisions that you will make for your future health – and that of your family too.

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Of course, it will depend on where you’re living, but you also need to look out for some key standards: quality can vary and it needs to be affordable too. It’s a case of doing your homework. Here’s some of the most commonly asked questions, and answers, to get you thinking.

Family doctor – who are we talking about?

A family doctor is there to look after you and your family. They’re primary care doctors who are there for all of you over the long term, looking after and overseeing your health. When you have specific health needs, maybe relating to a certain part of your body, they can refer you to specialists.

Family doctors are there to create relationships with their patients, relationships of trust and understanding. They should get to know each of you in your family and understand their needs. They’re there to listen and to help you all make the healthcare decisions.

What kind of health issues can a family doctor help with?

Just about everything. Family doctors are trained in all aspects of medicine, enabling them to diagnose and treat all sorts of ailments and conditions.

This includes physical, mental and emotional aspects of both you and your family. Family doctors get to know you, they know your medical history, and therefore should understand what is right for you. They are with you and your family throughout but, as previously mentioned, may also refer you to a specialist – if the need arises.

A main thrust of their work is preventing you from developing a major health problem, getting to it early and working with you to find a solution.

Are family doctors well trained?

Family doctors train for years, treating patients with all sorts of conditions in all sorts of environments – whether that’s in a clinic, at a patient’s home or in a hospital.

They keep across the latest developments in medicine, in terms of treatments and specialist services available.

How do I pick a family doctor?

As with most recommendations in life, word of mouth is always a good place to start. So, talk to your wider family, your friends – can they suggest a good doctor or clinic? Get yourself a shortlist together and do some research. Then contact their offices and request more information.

You need to get as many details as you can, including: which doctors are available, office opening hours and whether your insurance is accepted.

Here are some key questions you’ll want to think about asking:

  • Which hospitals does the doctor use?
  • What are the office hours?
  • Who covers for your doctor when they are not available?
  • What is appointment availability like? How long does it take to get a routine check-up?
  • How long might I have to wait in the office to see a doctor?
  • What happens if I need to cancel a booked appointment? Can it be re-scheduled? Will I be charged?
  • Will I be sent details/reminders about prevention tests?
  • What should I do if I have an urgent medical need, or there’s an emergency?
  • Can a medical professional give advice over the phone if necessary?

If you’re happy with what you have found out, then you should make an appointment to go and meet the doctor you’ve selected or been allocated. This is a great opportunity for you to introduce yourself face-to-face and to ask lots more questions. It’s also a chance for the doctor to find out all about you and your family – and your health needs. This will help to reassure you that you have found the right doctor. It’s all about building up that relationship of trust and understanding. 

But how can I be sure about quality of care?

Making a final decision over who’s going to be your family doctor will of course have you thinking about all sorts of things, including quality of care.

The US government gives this advice:

  • Check to see if your doctors are licences to practice medicine in the state you live. A state or local occupational and professional licensing board will be able to give you this information.
  • Find out if the doctor is board-certified in the appropriate specialty. You can find this information from the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS).
  • Check to make sure the hospital is approved by your insurance.
  • Look into how often or how well the health care professional has treated patients with any condition that you may have. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report the success rates and number of procedures performed by fertility clinics. Some states collect and post data on the success of heart by-pass surgeries. Contact your state’s health department
  • Check whether there have been any complaints or disciplinary actions taken against your health care provider, by contacting your state medical board.

Anything else I should think about?

You might want to check that the medical provider is ‘HIPAA’ compliant. Rules and guidelines for medical clinics set out some key requirements relating to the use of electronic medical records and their security.

It could be worth asking if your medical provider has invested in HIPAA Security Software.

Quick check

In summary, when looking for a doctor, you should keep these key questions in mind:

  • Is the doctor rated to give quality care?
  • Do they come recommended by family, friends or others?
  • Do they have all the necessary training and specialisms you’re looking for?
  • Are they strong on preventative steps?
  • Do they match your health plan?
  • Are they a good listener?
  • Do they encourage you to ask questions?
  • Are you able to access their services easily?
  • Is the doctor conveniently located for you and your family?

You will always want the best for you and your family when it comes to healthcare, so do your homework, ask the questions and you should find the doctor you desire.

Consumer Tips reference:

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