Choosing a Family Doctor

A family doctor is one who takes care of the whole family. Many doctors train in a specialty area of medicine. However, family doctors 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 better understand how to help you make good decisions about your health.

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 you require care from a specialist, your family doctor will refer you to a specialist. He or she will help coordinate all aspects of your care.

Path to improved well being

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 as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease.
  • Ear, nose and throat care.
  • Mental and behavioral health care.
  • Bone and joint 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 find the right family doctor. Talk to your friends and family. They may have a recommendation. Check your insurance to see get a list of doctors in your insurance network.

Once you have recommendations, call their offices to get more information. Important questions to ask include:

  • Are they taking new patients?
  • Do they accept your insurance?
  • What are their office hours?
  • Do they have after-hour walk-in 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?

Many doctors are board certified. This means they have specific training in certain areas. Most family doctors become board certified in family medicine.

Once you find a doctor who meets your needs, schedule an appointment. This allows you to meet and talk to the doctor. Before deciding on your doctor of choice, ask 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?
  • Was the doctor patient with me?

It takes time to build a relationship with your doctor. Family medicine pays special attention to 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 that family doctors get re-certified 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

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 an online patient portal. These options allow you to ask simple questions without needing an appointment.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Can you treat my chronic health problems, or do I need to see a specialist?
  • Can my baby see a family doctor instead of a pediatrician?
  • Can a family doctor deliver a baby?

Resources

National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging: How to Choose a Doctor You Can Talk To