Choosing a Family Doctor

What is a family doctor?

A family doctor is a doctor who takes care of the whole family. Most types of doctors treat one disease or area of medicine. Family doctors, though, are trained in all areas of medicine. They care for you as a whole person through all stages of your life, regardless of your age or sex. This includes care for your physical, mental, and emotional health. Family doctors get to know their patients. They build a caring relationship with you and your family. They listen and document your health history. This helps them make the right health care decisions.

Your family doctor is responsible for diagnosing and treating acute and chronic illnesses. They also provide routine health screenings and counseling on lifestyle changes. This helps prevent health issues before they develop. If a problem does occur that requires care from a specialist, your family doctor will guide you and help coordinate all aspects of your care. You and your family doctor work together to achieve the best possible outcome in the most cost-effective manner.

Path to improved health

Everyone should have a family doctor, even if they don’t have a current health problem. Family doctors are trained in preventive medicine. Preventing or avoiding a health problem is better than having to treat or manage one. Your family doctor can help keep you and your family healthy.

Family doctors are trained to treat all areas of care. These include:

  • infant to elderly care
  • chronic conditions, such asdiabetes, asthma, and heart disease
  • ear, nose and throat care
  • mental and behavioral health care
  • bone andjoint care
  • eye care
  • well-woman care and family planning
  • basic testing, such as X-rays
  • minor surgical procedures
  • emergency medical care.

There are several ways to begin looking for a family doctor. You can talk to your friends and family. They may have a recommendation. You can check your insurance to see get a list of doctors in your network.

Once you have the names of a few doctors, call their offices to get more information. Some things that you should ask include:

  • Are they taking new patients?
  • Do they accept your insurance?
  • What are their office hours?
  • Do they have on-call hours?
  • What is the average wait time to get an appointment with the doctor?
  • What hospital does the doctor use?
  • How many doctors are in the practice?
  • Do they perform labs and imaging tests in the office? If not, do they refer patients to a place that is in your insurance network?

Once you find a doctor who meets your needs, schedule an appointment. This allows you to meet and talk to the doctor. Confirm that you want to choose the doctor by asking yourself these questions.

  • Was the office easy to get to?
  • Were office staff friendly and was the check-in process smooth?
  • Was I comfortable with the doctor?
  • Did the doctor answer all of my questions?
  • Did the doctor show interest in getting to know me?
  • Did the doctor explain things so that I understood?
  • Will the doctor be able to treat my family and me?

Keep in mind that it takes time to build a relationship with your doctor. The cornerstone of family medicine is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship. At the beginning, your family doctor will create a personal treatment plan. This involves asking questions about your family health, medical history, and lifestyle. These help determine possible health risk factors.

Research shows that people who have a family doctor have better overall health outcomes, lower death rates, and lower total costs of care.

Things to consider

Family doctors know the most current treatments and technologies. They train for 3 years in real practice settings. This includes treating patients in the office, the hospital, and at home. They also continue to educate themselves. This allows them to apply the latest health advancements to the everyday care of their patients.

Family doctors adhere to the highest standards of health care. The American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM) requires family doctors to re-certify every 7 to 10 years. Family doctors also are required to complete a minimum of 150 hours of continuing medical education every 3 years. In addition, family doctors have the support of a national medical association, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The AAFP provides high-quality learning opportunities for family physicians, as well as patient education materials and practice management support.

When to see a doctor

Congratulations on choosing a family doctor! You and your family should see your doctor at least once a year. At this time, your doctor will do a physical exam and routine screenings. They also can answer any questions or concerns you have. If a health problem occurs, contact your doctor to make an appointment. Some doctors have “ask a nurse” phone lines. Others may have secure messaging through a patient portal. These options allow you to ask simple questions without needing an appointment.