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Tips on Choosing a Doctor

How do I know if a doctor is right for me?

Tips On How To Choose A Doctor:

A Guide For Health Care Consumers In Georgia

The Georgia Medical Board does not provide a referral service for consumers who need to choose a doctor. However, the following information may be helpful to you when making your decision in choosing a doctor for you and your family.

If you have health insurance, the first place to check is with your insurer or your employer's benefits office. Many insurance plans now limit your choice to a list of doctors who agree to certain requirements. Many plans also require you to select a primary care physician (PCP) from their list. The primary care physician is then responsible for your care, and must make any necessary referrals to specialists or other health professionals in consultation with and the consent of the insurance carrier.

If you are not limited to a list of doctors, most physicians are listed in the telephone yellow pages, and in larger communities, they are listed by specialty. For your main physician, you should consider a Family Practitioner, General Practitioner, or Internal Medicine Specialist (Internist). You also may want to choose an Obstetrician/Gynecologist if you are a woman, or a Pediatrician for your children. All of these doctors are considered primary care practitioners, in that they can provide overall management of your health care. If you are elderly, and have conditions associated with aging, you may want to seek a specialist in gerontology as your PCP. Regardless, be sure your insurance will cover the doctor's services before you incur any charges.

You may want to talk with friends or co-workers about physicians they like, especially if your insurance carrier limits you in your choice to their list of recommended and/or approved physicians. You should ask your co-workers why they like the physician they use. Their insight and personal experience with the doctor can be useful information for you during your decision making process. If this is not feasible, most county medical societies will give you names of physicians in your area who are in the specialty you select. Look in the white pages under Medical Society. Also, the Medical Association of Georgia(MAG) web page contains information about county medical societies.

Once you have some names, call the doctors and ask if they are accepting new patients. Be sure to ask if they will accept your insurance plan (insurance plan lists often are outdated, as physicians are added or deleted from the plan).

Ideally, you should meet the physician and discuss your health concerns while you are well. This may be a good time to have an annual physical, but again make sure your insurance will cover the cost of your visit as well as the cost of an annual physical. Most plans will not cover an informal visit just to get acquainted or for you to see if you like the doctor's "bed side manner." Before you make an appointment, call the Medical Board to verify that he or she has a current Georgia license or visit the physician search section on our web site. Also, ask if there have been any disciplinary actions. This service is available by calling (404) 657-6494. See the page Verification for more information.

BEFORE YOU GO FOR YOUR FIRST APPOINTMENT: Before your first appointment with a new doctor, make a list of things you want to tell the physician about your previous health history. Your past health history gives the physician valuable clues on potential outcomes for any course of treatment for any future health problems.

Many offices will ask you to fill out a "Health History" and a "Family History" form, and may want details about:

  • any surgeries you have had (in-patient as well as out-patient surgeries), when, and where (in case the doctor wants to request your medical records regarding the surgery);
  • any illnesses or health conditions of your immediate family (e.g., parents, grandparent's, etc., such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc.)
  • any hospitalizations, the reason for admission, when and where;
  • any past conditions or major illnesses for which you were treated;
  • any current conditions you are being treated for;
  • prescription drugs you take (it is always a good idea to take the prescription bottles with you so you will have correct information about strength and dosages; this information is very important to the doctor as a part of your health evaluation process);
  • the name and address of your previous doctor(s);
  • person to contact in an emergency;
  • your employer's address and phone number;
  • When you call for your first appointment, make sure the doctor accepts your insurance plan. Be sure to take your current insurance identification card with you. If you do not have your card with you at your first visit, you will need the name of your insurance carrier, your policy number, including group number, the telephone number of the insurance carrier's Verification of Coverage Office, and the address where to file claims;
  • Inquire whether or not the doctor requires you to make full payment upfront and requires you to file for reimbursement from your insurance company yourself, or whether his office will allow you to "assign benefits" (file your insurance on your behalf and accept payment directly from your insurance company);
  • If you are covered by Medicare and/or Medicaid, when you call for your first appointment, please make sure that the doctor accepts Medicare and/or Medicaid. (Not all physicians participate in these programs.) If the doctor accepts Medicare and/or Medicaid, be sure to take your current identification card with you.

Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor:

A very important step is to make a list of questions you want answered. Inform the doctor's staff, when you make your first appointment, that you will need time for the doctor to address your concerns. Be upfront that you are "interviewing" the doctor as you are making a very important decision for you and your family. The questions you may want to include are:

  • the doctor's specialty or special areas of practice;
  • who covers his patients when s/he is not available;
  • whether other physicians or non-physicians such as a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant will participate in your care, and whether this is optional;
  • what special training the physician may have in managing any medical conditions you have (such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, HIV or other major, life-threatening chronic disease, etc.);
  • how does your doctor view the doctor-patient relationship; is it a "partnership" or does the doctor expect you follow his/her orders without question; the answer to this question can give you valuable insight into how the doctor will act and react to your concerns;
  • whether s/he will provide care for others in your family;
  • what hospitals the physician can admit patients to; and if there are any restrictions on the doctor's hospital privileges, prescription writing privileges or on his/her medical license in general. It is important that your doctor is able to admit you to a hospital if you need in-patient care. If s/he does not have admitting privileges, make sure you have a very clear understanding of how hospitalizations will be handled.

After Your First Visit:

You should feel that you were treated courteously, that all your questions were answered, and that you did not feel rushed or dismissed.

Your relationship with a doctor is one of the most intimate in life. You should be able to trust him or her with the most private situations or problems, and should feel that your doctor is your ally.

Your relationship with your doctor should be considered a "partnership." The ultimate decisions regarding your personally health and that of your family's is up to you. Your doctor advises you on what he believes the best treatment regimen. As a health care consumer, you always have the right to a second opinion on your diagnosis, prognosis and treatment alternatives.

After the first visit, if you are satisfied with the rapport you had with the doctor and staff, GREAT! If you were not comfortable and satisfied with your first visit, remember the choice is yours and you may try another doctor. It is your health and the health of your family that is at stake.