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How to Find a Primary-Care Physician Who's a Good Fit for Your Family

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During open enrollment, one of the most important questions on your mind will likely be how to find a primary-care physician who's a good fit for you and your family. Your primary care physician is the home base for all your medical decisions. This is the doctor you visit for all your basic health care needs, who serves as the point person for coordinating your specialists' care, and who handles your wellness visits and routine screenings. It's not just important that you trust your doctor; it's vital that the two of you have a good rapport.

When choosing a new primary-care doctor, here are a few key elements -- and search/vetting tactics -- to consider.

Review Your Health Insurance Plan's Network

Finding a primary-care doctor who's in your health plan's network is vital. If you go to a doctor outside the network, you'll end up paying a lot more money for each visit. Most health insurance companies have a directory online that lists doctors in their network and whether each one is accepting new patients. The American Medical Association also has a searchable online directory with this information. recommends using its "Physician Compare" directory to find doctors in your region. You can enter your exact address, choose a specialty, and find out how far away the doctors are from where you live, along with their specialties, when they graduated, and their hospital affiliations.

If you have a particular doctor in mind, call their office and ask if they accept your health insurance plan. If you're in open enrollment and find a perfect doctor who's outside your network, you might even considering changing health plans so you can see this doctor.

Consider the Types of Primary-Care Doctors

When choosing a primary-care doctor, you'll quickly realize there are three basic types: family practice, internal medicine, and general practice. Any of them can serve as your primary-care physician, but your final choice depends on your needs. Family-practice doctors treat general ailments, and many also treat specialty areas such as women's health or mental health. They can treat all ages, from newborns to older Americans. General-practice doctors are similar to family-practice physicians in most ways. An internal-medicine doctor, however, typically focuses on adults. To know for certain, just call the doctor's office and ask what conditions and ages the doctor treats.

Check Certifications and History

You may find it helpful to review doctors' certifications and performance histories. State medical boards have online directories where you can search a doctor's name and find out their registration status, along with any disciplinary actions taken, license restrictions that are in place, or malpractice claims made against them. Consumer Reports has a page online that lists all the resources for finding this information, organized by state.

Read Reviews Online

Online reviews provide a great resource for checking out a primary-care doctor you're considering. ZocDoc is a popular site that offers a directory of doctors in your area, methods for booking appointments online, and reviews from other ZocDoc users. You may also be able to find reviews through Healthgrades or Vitals. Even a simple Google search can reveal important information about the doctors you're vetting. People are more likely to leave a review if they're unhappy, so keep that in mind when comparing the number of positive reviews to negative reviews.

Remember, You Can Always Change Your Mind

As you can see, it takes a bit of legwork to find a primary-care physician. Remember that, if you later decide you're unhappy with your choice, you can always change your mind; this isn't a lifetime commitment. If you decide to try a different physician, just ask to have all your medical records transferred.

Sometimes, finding the right primary-care doctor comes down to personality and the type of bedside manner you prefer, so it may take a bit of time to find the perfect match. All the tools you need to make your initial choices are available to you, so take advantage of them, and you'll eventually find a physician that your whole family appreciates.

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