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How To Choose A Primary Care Doctor

Step 2. Decide What To Look For In A Doctor

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Factors to consider when choosing a primary care physician follow. While the factors to consider are, in general, the same with respect to choosing any type of doctor, which factors are important to you may differ depending on the particular doctor's role in your life. At the least, keep in mind that you will likely be working with a variety of specialists over time because of your diagnosis. Your primary care doctor needs to be able to work with those specialists - and possibly coordinate them on your behalf.

  • Board Certification: Certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties is evidence that the doctor has received the proper training, performed the specialized residency, and has passed an extensive examination directly related to a specific condition and/or medical specialty. It does not certify the amount of a doctor's experience with your particular condition. To learn more, see offsite link
  • Hospital Affiliation: Doctors can only admit patients to hospitals if the doctor has an affiliation with that hospital. The better the hospital with which the doctor is affiliated, the better the doctor is likely to be. Hospitals check background and quality on an ongoing basis.
  • Medical School: Do you care in which country the school is located, and about the name of the school?
  • Payment: If you have health insurance, does the doctor accept it? If you don't have health insurance, is the amount of the doctor's charge an issue?
  • Hospital Residency: Some people only want doctors who were a resident at a prestigious hospital.
  • Years in Practice/Age: Does age matter to you? Generally, the age of the doctor does not affect outcome. However, age may relate to your comfort level. The longer a doctor has been in practice, the more experience he or she has. On the other hand, the doctor is also further away from the latest developments being discussed in medical school.
  • Sex: Do you prefer a doctor of the same sex you are?
  • Clinical Trials: Do you care whether the doctor heads or is involved in clinical trials relating to your condition?
  • Solo or Group Practice? Both types of practices have their advantages. A solo practice may provide more continuity of care and allow for the development of a more personal relationship with the doctor. A group practice may be a group of doctors with the same specialty or different specialties. A group practice may provide for additional medical opinions and more extensive services.
  • Location: Is the doctor's location important to you?
  • Parking or Other Transportation: Important to you?
  • Hours: Is it only convenient for you to see the doctor on certain days and/or hours?
  • Language: If English isn't your first language, do you need a doctor who can speak your language -- or at least have translation available?
  • House calls: If you need a doctor who makes house calls, and any doctor you are considering doesn't, see the website of the American Academy of Home Care Physicians ( offsite link). It lists doctors and other health care providers by state and zip codes for the areas served.

While the following will not be relevant to your initial search for a doctor, start thinking about:

  • Bedside manner: Does the doctor's personality matter to you? You may care more about a personal relationship with a primary care doctor or a specialist you'll see over time than a doctor you see for a particular event, such as a surgeon.
  • How much do you want to participate? Do you want a doctor who tells you want to do? At the other extreme, do you need to make all the decisions? Do you want to think of your doctor as a partner, a member of your team who gives you his or her opinion and expertise, discusses matters, and lets you make the final decision?
  • Overall rapport: It is helpful to have a rapport with a doctor. Studies show that doctors talk more to the patients they identify with and like. Not being liked by doctors and nurses affects your health care.

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Clinical Trials

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