Caring for your family’s health is a crucial part of parenting, and choosing a healthcare professional is an important task. (For a list of qualities and characteristics you might consider in a care provider,
see our Family Q&A “Selecting a Physician.”) Unfortunately, even when they know what they want in a doctor, many people feel unsure about how to find the right one. Here are a few ideas that can help you in finding the healthcare professional who is best suited to your family’s needs.
First, consider the type of healthcare professional your family will need. Family medicine physicians, or family physicians (whether holding M.D. or D.O. degrees), care for all age-groups, including infants and children. One advantage of choosing a family physician is that your entire family can have a “medical home” at the same practice. Depending upon their practice setting, family physicians may request consultation from pediatricians or subspecialists when dealing with more difficult cases.
Another option is to choose a primary care physician (a physician who serves as the point of entry into the healthcare system) to care for the adults in your family and another to care for your children. Internal medicine specialists, or internists, are physicians who specialize in preventing, detecting and treating the illnesses of adults. Pediatricians are doctors who have specialized training in the care of infants, children and adolescents.
Internists, pediatricians and family physicians may employ nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who are trained to provide basic services in an office setting. Some patients wonder whether they get their money’s worth if they do not actually see a doctor during their visit. But these non-physician healthcare providers are not only likely to be more readily accessible, especially for same-day appointments, but they also may be able to spend more time answering questions and working through common problems.
After considering the type of physician(s) your family will receive care from, identify your available options. If you have insurance that has a list of “preferred providers” (i.e., those who have signed on for your particular plan), take special note of the listed family physicians and pediatricians. You’ll need to refer to these names as you seek out potential caregivers. If you are in an HMO plan that requires you to designate a primary care physician or group as a “gatekeeper” – one whom you must contact (and probably see initially) in order to access care – you will need to be particularly attentive to the names on their list. If you or your children are covered by Medicaid, ask your prospective physician whether he or she is accepting new Medicaid patients.
When looking for the right physician, ask around. People who have had particularly good (or bad) experiences with a physician or group are usually more than happy to tell you about them. Hopefully, you’ll have had opportunity to settle into your neighborhood and find a local church to attend. Ask your neighbors, friends, fellow church members or other people whom you trust in your community for recommendations, and see which names are mentioned most often. Those who work in healthcare, especially nurses – and particularly those who care for patients in the hospital or emergency department can often give you the lowdown on the good, bad and mediocre in the local medical community.
Finally, you may wish to check with your local hospital. Most hospitals maintain a referral list of physicians who are members of their medical staff. While the presence of a person’s name on such a list doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find him or her to your liking, it does at least indicate that the physician has met the credentialing criteria – education, training, licensure and possibly certain other factors (such as specialty board certification) – that are required to admit patients to that facility.
Finding the right healthcare professional(s) for your family may take some time and effort, but the benefits to your family’s health are more than worth it.
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