Guidelines for Finding a New Family Doctor

There was a time when the first question one would ask when looking for a doctor was, “Who is the doctor in the nearest town?” For most people who have the ability to access this Web Site, that is no longer the case. Read on for Dr. Greene’s Guide To Finding A New Family Doctor.

There was a time when the first question one would ask when looking for a doctor was, “Who is the doctor in the nearest town?” For most people who have the ability to access this Web Site, that is no longer the case. Now, unfortunately, the first question most people ask is, “Does the best doctor in town accept my insurance?” If he or she does, you are in luck. You may, however, still want to know a bit about them and their practice.

When considering a doctor, you want to think about four things:

  1. Is he or she a well-trained physician who stays current with medical trends?
  2. Does she or he practice medicine in a way that agrees with your philosophy of healthcare?
  3. Does the Practice he or she is affiliated with fit your practical needs?
  4. Will you feel comfortable asking this doctor any health-related questions that might arise?

Determining a physician’s qualifications is fairly simple and a great place to start. If a doctor does not meet your standards, you can easily eliminate him or her as a candidate and move on. Here are some questions you can ask that will help you determine her or his qualifications:

  • Where did he or she complete undergraduate school?
  • Did she or he receive honors?
  • What medical school did he or she attend?
  • Where did she or he complete Residency?
  • Did he or she serve as a Chief Resident? (If so, he or she was the top of the class and judged to be good with people.)
  • Is she or he Board Certified? (All physicians are licensed, but not all are certified.)
  • What is he or she doing to continue training? (The AMA gives a “Physician’s Recognition Award” to those in practice who actively pursue continuing education.)

The second major factor in determining the right physician for you is much more subjective. It requires you to determine the kind of physician you are looking for. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • Do you want a doctor who works with you to determine the best course for your healthcare, or are you more comfortable with a physician who simply tells you what to do?
  • Do you prefer a minimalist approach to medicine, or do you want medical intervention whenever it may be appropriate?
  • Are you excited about alternative medicine, or are you more comfortable with traditional Western medical practices?

After you have answered these questions for yourself, you will be able to tailor the following questions to draw out the information you are looking for:

  • Does he or she provide patient education?
  • Does she or he give you treatment options?
  • What is his or her approach to the use of antibiotics? Does she or he prescribe antibiotics for the common cold?
  • Is he or she open to discussing alternative treatments, such as diet? The practical aspects of a practice may not be important in determining if you want to select a physician, but they are very important in determining if she or he will be able to serve the needs of your family:
  • Is his or her office within a reasonable distance from your home?
  • What hours is the practice open? Any Saturdays or evenings?
  • How long in advance do you need to schedule a physical? (This is tricky — if you have to schedule too far in advance, you are likely to become frustrated. On the other hand, if there is no waiting, you might want to ask why (perhaps the practice has just added an additional doctor, for instance.)
  • Does the practice take same-day appointment for sick patients? Do they accept drop-ins for sick patients? If so, how long is the average wait?
  • Does she or he accept phone calls during office hours? (This often saves you a trip to the office.)
  • How many doctors share after-hours on-call duties? If you have an after-hours need, will you be able to talk to one of the doctors in the same practice? A doctor from another practice? A nurse? An answering machine?
  • How do they handle “after-hours,” non-emergency needs? Are they associated with an after-hours clinic, or do they meet you in the emergency room? Or do they tell you to take two aspirins and call in the morning?
  • How do they handle billing? Do they require payment at the time of the visit, or do they bill your insurance company first and then bill you after receiving payment from your insurance? (This is not important if you have an HMO.)

Finally, and in many ways most importantly, notice the quality of your interaction with the physician. This can be more significant than the specific information imparted. You need to feel comfortable with this person, confident that she or he is genuinely interested, and encouraged that communication will flow smoothly in both directions.

Last medical review on: August 23, 2008
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

You make a great point that people decide on a doctor differently than they used to. There used to only be one doctor in our town that everyone went to. Now there are several and they all have websites outlining their services to help us choose.