A primary care physician such as a family medicine doctor or an internist who knows and understands your needs can be your most valuable health partner. Specialists who work on separate health problems may not see your whole health picture or get a good understanding of what's important to you. When you choose a doctor, there are lots of questions to ask, but these three matter the most:
- Is the doctor well trained and experienced?
- Will the doctor be available when needed?
- Will the doctor work in partnership with me?
For more information about choosing a doctor, see the topic Choosing a Health Care Provider.
Training and experience
For most people, a good choice for a primary care physician is a board-certified family medicine doctor or an internist. For children and teens, a board-certified pediatrician or family medicine doctor is a good choice.
A doctor becomes board-certified by completing training in a specialty area and passing an examination to demonstrate that he or she has the skills and experience needed to practice that medical specialty. To maintain their certification, doctors must take continuing medical education courses and pass periodic examinations. Board-certified family doctors, internists, and pediatricians have knowledge about many common medical problems. For more information, see the topic Medical Specialists.
Because health problems rarely develop when it's convenient, it helps to have a doctor who can see you when needed. Ideally, you want the best doctor you can find who is conveniently located and who belongs to your health plan.
Other things you may want to consider include:
- If I called right now for a routine visit, how soon could I be seen?
- How much time is allowed for a routine visit?
- Will the doctor discuss health problems over the phone or by email?
- What hospitals does the doctor use?
During your first visit, tell your doctor that you would like to share in making treatment decisions. Pay attention to how you feel during the visit.
- Does the doctor listen well?
- Does the doctor speak to you in terms you can understand?
- Does the doctor spend enough time with you?
- Do you think you could build a good working relationship with the doctor?
If the answers are no, look for another doctor. It may take more than one visit for you to decide whether you will be able to work with a doctor.