Choosing a Family Medicine Physician
July 06, 2010
This is part two of a two-part series. Last month Dr. Anna Rakovshik examined how to chose a pediatrician for your baby. This month, Dr. Rowe focuses on choosing a family medicine physician.
Unlike pediatricians who typically care exclusively for children, family medicine physicians can care for entire families, from newborns to ninety-plus-years-old. Both pediatricians and family medicine physicians receive an additional three years of training after completing medical school. In the case of family medicine physicians, however, that additional training after medical school is in the care of all family members and covers a wide variety of disciplines such as internal and family medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics. (Pediatricians spend all of those extra three years focused on specialized, child-focused medical training.) Family medicine physicians also receive special training in the psychological impacts of illness and how they can be a support emotionally to you and your family.
Anytime is an ideal time to seek out a family care physician to establish a care relationship, such as when expecting a first child, moving to a new area, or undergoing a change in insurance coverage. Most communities have numerous family physicians with thriving practices, making it easy to find a family physician. A physician who practices in your neighborhood and knows you and your family well will have better insight into your needs and perform better in taking care of you and your family. One easy way to start searching for a family medicine physician is to check with friends and neighbors who already have a family medicine physician. They are an excellent resource and are a significant referral case for practices.
When considering a care relationship with a family medicine physician, the questions you should ask fall into three categories:
- Clinical Sphere of Practice
Do they see hospital patients? Are newborns and/or elderly patients an important part of their practice? Do they have the ability to perform procedures? What are their referral patterns to specialties?
- Practice Philosophy
How generous are office hours? How flexible is the physician's office when you need to schedule same day appointments? Are tests and referrals ordered in an appropriate and timely fashion?
- Emotional Fit
Do you feel comfortable talking and interacting with the physician? Are their personality and values are similar to your own?
Families are encouraged to ask their family medicine physician about their practice philosophy and approach to medicine, as well as getting a sense of the their comfort level with treating different care issues. Families should utilize a few visits to get a sense of the physician's personality and see if the doctor is a good fit for you and your family.
After choosing your family medicine physician, visit intervals depend heavily on the specific patient's age and care needs. Infants in their first year of life need to be seen at least every two to three months, if not more frequently. Slightly older children and teenagers usually require just a yearly physical. Young adults may only need a physical every few years if healthy. Then as adults approach their 40s and 50s, they will require a yearly physical to address potential health risks and problems before they start. Other individuals with long-standing health problems (such as high blood pressure or chronic illness) may need to be seen as often as every three months.
Parents are in agreement that they want the best physician for their child(ren). But the view of what is “best” and what is “right” in a physician depends on the parents philosophy and desires for their child(ren)'s health care. Consideration of the benefits of seeing a family medicine physician and benefits of seeing a pediatrician, combined with up-front effort to learn about individual physicians, can help parents find the physician who is the perfect fit.
Dr. Bruce Rowe is a family medicine physician who practices at Columbia St. Mary's Glendale Clinic in Brown Deer, WI.