Find you’re having trouble sleeping lately? Or, maybe you woke up one morning to find a rash on your shoulder? What to do, what to do? The best course will be to head to your doctor’s office. If you don’t have one, that’s a good indicator that it’s time to start looking. But you may be wondering how to find a general practitioner, or what a general practitioner even is.
The doctor for whom you’ll search will most likely be a general practitioner, someone who does not specialize in treating one part of the body or focus his or her practice on one narrow area of medicine.
A general practitioner will serve as your go-to aid for everyday health care problems such as the flu or a temporary bout of insomnia, as a conduit to the specialists you may need for more serious issues such as cardiovascular disease and for overseeing all the care you receive.
These primary care physicians will serve as your medical “home.” He or she will be the doctor you visit for most medical issues, including wellness visits, routine screenings and non-emergency illnesses. Some patient-general practitioner relationships will be short because education or work will take you from place to place and switch you from insurer to insurer. Other doctor-patient relationships can span decades.
How to find a general practitioner
There are some tried-and-true ways of finding a general practitioner. Just ask your mom or dad. Really, ask them. With any luck, the doctor they brought you to as a kid when you had the sniffles or poison ivy has a practice that also treats adults. How simple is that?
Maybe there’s a friend or co-worker you can ask. People who have had the same doctor for many years are likely to sing their praises and could be willing to find out if their doctor is accepting new patients.
If you’re flying a bit blind on this choice, maybe because you’ve recently moved, you can find general practitioners through your state’s health department – which may provide quality ratings on them – your state’s medical society, or even an internet search.
But, here’s the thing: You should get an OK from your insurer or employer’s benefits office before booking an appointment.
Insurance plans typically limit policyholders’ choice of doctors to those medical professionals under contract with them.
Many insurers also require you to choose a doctor (who will be considered your primary care physician, or PCP) from an approved list. The primary care physician will be responsible for your care, will make referrals for you to specialists, physical therapists, or other health professionals in coordination with your insurer and according to what is allowed under your insurance plan.
You should consider a family practitioner (someone who would take on your whole family as patients), a general practitioner or an internist as your primary care physician.
What you should decide is: What is most important for me or my family when it comes to primary medical care?
Depending on your gender and whether you have children, you may want to choose an obstetrician/gynecologist or a pediatrician. All of these doctors are considered primary care practitioners because they can manage your health care. Regardless of whom you choose, make sure your insurance will cover that doctor’s services before you get billed.
How do I know if a doctor is right for me?
Whether you talk to your family and friends about their doctors, or are trying to figure this out on your own, be sure to get a sense of a few things before settling on a general practitioner.
His or her personality, for instance. Do you want someone who is direct and efficient, or warmer and more conversational?
How easy is getting an appointment? How convenient is it to get to their office from home or work? What about the office hours? Or, weekend and night service? Do they use a medical laboratory nearby? Or, are you going to have to plan a separate trip to get tests done?
Once you have a short list of possibilities, you should call the doctors’ offices to learn whether they are accepting new patients and, if so, whether they accept your insurance plan.
When you go, make sure you have a list of previous surgeries or hospitalizations, as well as any major conditions or illnesses and prescription drugs. Remember to bring your insurance card and a current identification with you.
Go into this first visit with a list of questions you want answered, such as a doctor’s special practice areas, who covers the practice when he/she is unavailable or where they have hospital admitting privileges. From the moment you step in the door to a general practitioner’s office, keep your eyes and ears open. You’re less likely to visit a doctor or follow up on recommendations when the doctor and his or her staff are cold and careless.
A relationship with a doctor is one of the most important and intimate in life. You need to feel as if you trust him or her and that they are an ally in your care and well-being. The decision about who will be your primary care physician is up to you. The effort to find a general practitioner is one of the most important health care decisions you will make. Be sure to give it the care and thought it requires. Your life will be better with a doctor on whom you can depend.
What would your advice be to someone trying to find a general practitioner? What do you like about your current GP or primary care physician? Tell us in the comments below.