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Finding Dr. Right

A primary care physician to meet your family's needs

Although your spouse or partner is fabulous, you're still searching for that special someone – "Dr. Right." Just like an ideal mate, it's important to find a doctor you can be comfortable with and rely on, because a good physician will get to know your family's health history to give you the best care possible. Your family physician can not only treat current medical concerns as they come up, but will also guide your family's care to prevent and manage illness and disease. Take some time to research a family physician that will be right for you and your family.

Your primary care physician, or PCP, is typically a doctor who is part of your health planhealth plan
A health plan that you buy or that is provided by your employer. It pays for health care services. I... more
networknetwork
Also called "provider network." A panel of physicians, hospitals and other health care professionals... more
, and serves as your main contact for you and your family's medical care. Your PCP will provide basic medical care, and also coordinate and manage any other care you might receive. If you're in a health planhealth plan
A health plan that you buy or that is provided by your employer. It pays for health care services. I... more
that requires referrals, this is the doctor who will give you referrals to specialists, such as allergists or dermatologists.

Your PCP can be any one of the following types of doctors:

  • Family Practitioner or General Practitioner: These doctors provide continuing, comprehensive health care in a broad range of medical specialties, including internal medicine, gynecology and general surgery, among others.
  • Internist: Specialists in internal medicine diagnose and treat diseases, without surgery, usually for adults.
  • Pediatrician: Pediatricians oversee the health and well-being of infants through young adults.

Check your health plan options

Check your health benefits providerprovider
A licensed health care facility, program, agency, physician or other health professional that delive... more
's website for a list of physicians in your area that participate in your networknetwork
Also called "provider network." A panel of physicians, hospitals and other health care professionals... more
. If you have your eye on a PCP that is not in your health planhealth plan
A health plan that you buy or that is provided by your employer. It pays for health care services. I... more
's networknetwork
Also called "provider network." A panel of physicians, hospitals and other health care professionals... more
, be sure to ask about extra out-of-pocketout-of-pocket
Amounts such as copayments and deductibles that an individual is required to contribute toward the c... more
expenses you may have to pay. Some insurers, like Aetna, allow you to nominate a physician to a networknetwork
Also called "provider network." A panel of physicians, hospitals and other health care professionals... more
by contacting member services and completing a physician nomination request. Whether or not your physician is added to your plan is dependentdependent
A child or spouse who gets health insurance coverage through your plan. Often times there are limit... more
upon a number of factors such as his or her credentials, whether your doctor wants to have a contract with your insurer and whether your insurer works with physicians in your geographic area. Be sure to consult with your insurer's member services department to find out what other procedures are involved.

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Ask around

Recommendations from your friends, co-workers and relatives can be a great place to start when finding a physician. However, keep in mind that your PCP should suit your family's particular needs, which may be very different from someone else's. For example, your greataunt's physician may be perfect for her because she specializes in elder care and has a great relationship with a local cardiologist. However, if she doesn't have as much experience working with children, she may not be as good a fit for you and your family.

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Key questions

If you've narrowed your list down to several physicians in convenient locations, you may want to meet with a few doctors to determine which doctor is the best fit for your family. Some questions to get you started include:

  • What are the office hours? If you work full time, ask if they see patients on Saturdays or evenings.
  • Does the doctor have a subspecialty? Depending on your family's needs, find out if the doctor has experience working with children, the elderly, or people with disabilities.
  • Is the doctor available over the phone during office hours? If not, is there a nurse who can answer your questions? How quickly are calls typically returned during evening hours or on a weekend or holiday? Does the doctor use e-mail?
  • Just in case – Who should you call in the middle of the night, on weekends or on holidays in an emergencyemergency
    A serious medical condition resulting from injury or illness that arises su... more
    ?
  • What hospital(s) does the doctor use? Make sure your doctor works with a hospital near your home.
  • If the office is a group practice, will your family see all of the physicians in the group or will you always see the same doctor? Can you choose to see the same doctor?

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Does your doctor meet your needs?

  • What is the doctor's educational background?
    • The "DoctorFinder" from the American Medical Association (AMA) database can include information about the medical school, professional achievements, awards, certification and practice philosophy of PCPs in your area.
    • A doctor's training and experience are very important. Your physician should have graduated from an accredited medical school, but it doesn't have to be a "big name" institution.
  • Does the doctor have the same language preference as you?
  • Is the doctor board-certified by the American Board of Family Physicians (ABFP) or the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM)? The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) also maintains a directory of active members.
  • Check out your doctor's track record and credentials by visiting MD Nationwide. For a small membership fee, you receive access to a database to review things like your doctor's training, board certification, memberships, awards, publications.
  • Ask your providerprovider
    A licensed health care facility, program, agency, physician or other health professional that delive... more
    if your plan has quality rankings for PCPs and specialists.
  • Looking for a pediatrician?
    • Check out Tips on Finding and Interviewing a Pediatrician.

Finding a physician who can accommodate your whole family's needs can be a challenge, but the time it takes to research will be worth it. With Dr. Right on the horizon, this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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