Topic updated: July 2012

Choosing a Doctor or Hospital

There are many reasons why you might be looking for a new doctor. Maybe you’ve moved to another city or perhaps your doctor is retiring. If you need a new doctor, the following ideas can help you find one who is right for you.

Types of Primary Care Doctors

Your primary care doctor is the doctor you usually see for general health problems. When choosing a new doctor, you will need to decide if you want this doctor to be a general or family practitioner, an internist, or a geriatrician.

  • General practitioners treat a wide range of medical problems in people of all ages.
  • Family practitioners are similar to general practitioners, but have extra training to care for all family members, young or old.
  • Internists are doctors for adults. Some internists take additional training to become specialists. For example, a cardiologist is an internist who specializes in heart disease.
  • Geriatricians care for older adults. A geriatrician is trained in family practice or internal medicine, and has additional training in caring for older people.

Asking around

Once you have a sense of what kind of doctor is best for you, ask people you trust, for example, friends, family, and coworkers, about doctors they use and like. You might ask questions such as:

  • Do you know a good doctor?
  • Would you recommend your doctor?
  • What do you like about your doctor?
  • How long does it take to get an appointment?
  • Can you usually see your doctor right away if you need to, like on the same day if you get sick?

In addition to talking to friends, family, and coworkers, you can talk with other health professionals you see, for example, your heart doctor or the doctor you see for your lung problems, and ask for recommendations. If your doctor is retiring or leaving the practice, you might ask if he or she has picked a replacement. You can check with your insurance plan for a list of doctors in your area. Another idea is to contact a local hospital, medical center, medical society, physician referral service, or nearby medical school. Online resources, like the website www.healthfinder.gov, may be useful too.

After talking with people, checking with local resources, and looking online, you may find a few names keep coming up. These might be the doctors you want to consider. Make a list of several names of doctors to pick from in case your first choice is not taking new patients or does not participate in your health insurance plan.

After you pick two or three doctors, call their offices. The office staff can give you information about the doctor’s education and training. They can also tell you about office policies, what insurance the office takes, if they file the insurance claims for you, what types of payment they accept, and to what hospitals the doctor sends patients.

You might say, “Before I make an appointment, I have some questions about the office and the practice.” Some questions you might want to ask are:

  • What type of health insurance does the office take? You want to find out if the doctor accepts Medicare or any other health insurance you have.
  • Where is the doctor’s office located? Is there parking? You want to make sure that it will be easy for you to get there.
  • How long is the usual office visit? You want a doctor who will take time to listen carefully to your concerns, answer your questions, and explain things clearly and fully in a way that you can understand. Good doctor-patient communication is important for developing treatment plans that address your specific health needs.
  • Is the doctor part of a group practice? If the doctor is part of a group, you may want to find out who the other doctors are and their specialties.
  • Who sees patients if the doctor is out of town or not available? If the doctor is not part of a group practice, you want to make sure that the doctor has a plan when he or she is not there.
  • Can I get lab work or x-rays done in the office or nearby? You want to find out if you will need to go to another location for tests or if most lab tests are done in the doctor’s office.
  • Is the doctor Board certified? Board-certified doctors have extra training and pass special exams after medical school to become specialists in a field of medicine such as family practice, internal medicine, or geriatrics.

Read the rest of this excellent publication from the National Institute on Aging.

man talking with his doctor who is holding a medical chart

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