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How to Choose General Physicians

Doctors and Medical Specialties
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General physicians, also known as general practitioners or family physicians, are a patient's main link with the healthcare system. General physicians receive broad training in areas ranging from pediatrics to geriatrics in order to be able to handle any of the everyday needs of an entire family. Additionally, it is general physicians who typically refer patients to specialists for treatment of more serious illnesses or injuries. The choice of a general physician is one of the most important decisions an individual or family can make.

Find Names of General Physicians

There are a number of resources to collect names of doctors in your community, and it's important to start your search with several names of general physicians in order to find the best candidate.

  • Ask friends and family members. This is perhaps your best resource, because you not only get the names of general physicians to consider, but you get a trusted recommendation as well.
  • Ask for a list of physicians from your company. If you work for a company that provides insurance for its workers, you can ask company officials for a list of all doctors who accept the company's insurance.
  • Check with your state medical board. Don't fear if you have moved to a new city and don't have the luxury of relying on friends and family members or the information in a human resources department. All state medical boards keep information on licensed doctors and their locations throughout the state. There are several Internet sites that provide links to state medical boards. One is ihealthpilot.org.

Interview the General Physicians on Your List

It's crucial to sit down face-to-face with each of the candidates on your list. Recommendations and qualifications are important, but don't underestimate the importance of getting along with and liking your general physician. A good relationship breeds trust and that's what everyone is looking for with their doctors. Consider these questions:

  • Hours of the practice, as well as the policy on after-hour calls. Is there a nurse or doctor on duty? If it is after hours and it's important to reach your doctor, is that possible?
  • How does the practice handle insurance forms? Most practices will submit insurance claims and bill for your portion of the expected payment.
  • What hospitals does your doctor use? Where are they located?
  • How does the practice handle lab tests, X-rays, etc.? If it isn't done in-house, where are patients sent and what is the estimated time to get test results?
  • What is the average wait time for a non-emergency appointment? If there is an emergency during working hours, can a patient be guaranteed an appointment that day?

Check Up on Your General Physicians

  • Go back to your state medical board and ask for all information about the general physicians still in the running. That should general information on the doctor's training and experience and could include information about complaints or legal actions.
  • Check with the American Board of Medical Specialties at www.abms.org to verify that your general physician is certified and has continued to maintain his or her certification. Additional information on about 690,000 doctors in the country is available at through the American Medical Association at www.ama-assn.org. However, this does not include disciplinary updates.
  • There are a number of web sites that offer information on malpractice actions and other disciplinary actions against doctors for a fee. One possibility is www.mdnationwide.org.

Choose one of the General Physicians

With the research complete, it's time to make a final decision. This should be a choice catered to your needs, whether that be a male or female doctor, a specific geographic location or a very small or very large practice. Be sure, however, to rely significantly on the "feel" you gained during the interview with the doctor. General physicians and their clients often bond and develop very strong relationships that can last many years. Make sure your doctor's personality and credentials are what you're looking for.

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