Guide to Choosing a Doctor or Dentist

Guide to Choosing a Doctor or Dentist

Nobody enjoys visiting the doctor or dentist, but sometimes it is necessary. When you or your family members are in need of medical or dental care, it is essential that you find the best possible choice. With so many doctors and dentists, it can be difficult to search for the right one. You certainly do not want to end up with a medical professional you do not like or one that does not have enough experience or training. This guide is designed to help you learn the essentials of finding a doctor or dentist that meets your needs.

Determine Your Needs

The first step in choosing a doctor or dentist is to determine your needs. General practitioners, also sometimes called primary care physicians, or family doctors, and regular dentists, provide broad care and normally do not have a particular area of specialty. Many doctors specialize in specific areas of medicine.

Primary Care Physician and Specialized Services

You will need to choose a primary care physician, or family doctor, for you and your family. Primary care physicians provide physical exams, give vaccinations and preventative care, and offer general care such as when you have the flu or a virus. When your illness requires specialized diagnosis and treatment, you may require treatment by a specialist.

Doctors

The most common types of doctors include:

Primary Care Physician or Family Doctor – Cares for the general health needs of men, women, and children.

Pediatrician – A doctor who specializes in providing medical care for babies and children throughout childhood, usually to the age of 18.

Gynecologist – A doctor who specializing in women’s health.

Obstetrician – A doctor who provides care to pregnant women and delivers babies.

Internist – A doctor who cares for disorders that affect internal organs.

Dermatologist – A doctor who specializes in skin conditions.

Orthopedist – A doctor who specializes in injuries to bones and joints.

Podiatrist – A doctor who specializes in feet, ankle and lower extremity problems.

Urologist – A doctor who specializes in the urinary tract.

Dentists

Some dentists, like doctors, practice specialized types of dental care:

General or Family Dentist – Provides routine dental care, cleanings, exams, x-rays, fillings, and preventative care.

Pediatric Dentist – Provides dental care to children.

Oral Surgeon – Removes wisdom teeth and performs other extractions and takes care of many other tooth and mouth-related issues that require surgery.

Orthodontist – Provides services for straightening teeth, most notably with braces.

Endodontist – Specializes in root canals.

Periodontist – Treats gum disease and associated issues.

Prosthodontist – Specializes in replacing missing teeth with implants or dentures.

Cosmetic Dentist – Provides vanity services to enhance the teeth such as teeth whitening, veneers, and implants.

Review Your Insurance

Once you determine your medical needs, you will need to review your medical or dental insurance policy. The policy will indicate the type of coverage it provides. Within each insurance policy, medical providers are often categorized as follows:

  • In-Network
  • Out-of-Network
  • Referrals

In-network providers are those that have a contract with your insurance company, and will normally cost you less out of pocket expense than an Out-of-Network provider. First, you normally choose a primary care physician that is in your network. Aside from emergencies, you will want to visit this physician when you are sick.

Sometimes you may require more specialized care than can be provided by your primary care physician. If so, your doctor may need to see you first before providing you with a referral to see a specialist. The “referral” to a specialist may be required by your insurance company, depending on the type of insurance plan you have. If you do not receive a referral when one is required, you may be responsible for payment out of pocket. Referrals are generally made for additional services that are not offered at your primary care physician’s office. For example, if you need to see a dermatologist, your doctor may have to confirm that it is necessary and then provide you with a referral to see that doctor. However, some insurance plans allow you to select a specialist (in-network for the maximum coverage) and contact them on your own without a referral.

Search for Doctors

Your insurance company has a list of doctors and dentists in your network. This is often accessible through their online website. If you live in a large metropolitan area, the list of doctors may be quite long while those in less urban settings may have a smaller selection. Many times doctors join together to form a medical practice. The practice may consist of a group of general doctors or may include those with various specialties. Choosing a practice with at least a few doctors can be advantageous because you are more likely to have fast, efficient care and may not need to wait as long for an appointment.

Picking a doctor from a list of names you don’t know makes it necessary to learn a little more about the available doctors before making a choice. A recommendation from a friend, family member or another doctor you trust can provide you with firsthand information and comfort about a doctor, making them worthy of your further research.

Research Doctors

After identifying doctors in your area that are in your network, there are some factors to consider in reducing the list of choices:

  • Specialty or area of expertise
  • Experience
  • Education
  • Location
  • Hospital affiliation
  • Board certification

You can normally find a good amount of information about doctors and dentists online. If you search their name and include the city and state in the search terms (i.e. Dr. Joe Smith Phoenix Arizona), you will get search results that may include their website, if they have one, and various websites that offer reviews and ratings posted by other patients, such as Yelp and webmd.

A great online resource is www.healthgrades.com. In that website, you can search the name of a doctor or dentist and find out the following, all in one place:

  • Office location and contact information
  • Whether he/she is accepting new patients or not
  • Experience/specialty
  • Certifications
  • Whether any sanctions, board actions or malpractice cases have been filed
  • Education and training
  • Awards and recognition
  • Languages spoken
  • Patient Satisfaction ratings

Doctors are often members of the American Medical Association. The AMA website has listings for more than 800,000 doctors nationwide. Dentists may belong to the American Dental Association, ADA, and may be listed on their website.

Schedule a Visit

While researching doctors online can provide you with a lot of basic information, you will need to schedule an initial visit or consultation to learn more about the actual practice and meet the doctor and his or her staff in person.

Some things you will want to observe or find out when you arrive at the doctor’s office:

  • Is transportation or parking available?
  • How long does it typically take to get an appointment to see the doctor?
  • Does the office offer convenient hours, or any weekend hours?
  • Is the staff courteous and pleasant?
  • How long is the wait?
  • Is the office clean?
  • Are nurses available to answer questions and calls?
  • Based on your insurance, what payment is required at the time of the visit?
  • Is there more than one doctor available to handle the practice?
  • How are after-hours needs handled?
  • Are x-rays performed at the office?
  • How are emergencies handled?
  • Do they charge for missed appointments?

It is important to choose a doctor or dentist that you trust and feel comfortable with. The doctor should have good communication skills and be personable. Your doctor should be willing to answer your questions and work with you to make healthcare decisions. If you have negative feelings about the doctor or do not feel comfortable, you should choose a different physician.

Benefit of Having a Family Doctor

It is a good idea to find a family doctor so that you and your entire family can utilize the same office. The doctor and staff will get to know you and your family and you will enjoy a good professional relationship with the physician. While an older doctor may have more experience, a younger doctor will probably be in practice for many years to come. If you are choosing between several doctors with similar backgrounds, training, and experience, you will do well to trust your instincts and choose the one that seems to be the best fit for you and your family.

DISCLAIMER: This guide is provided only for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for legal or other professional advice. This guide does not contain nor is it intended to provide legal or other professional advice for any specific situation and readers should not take action or refrain from taking action, based only on the information provided in this guide. Goldberg & Osborne has attempted to provide accurate and current information in this guide, but cannot and does not guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up to date. This guide may contain links and/or search terms that will lead to external websites as a convenience to the reader, but Goldberg & Osborne is not responsible for the content or operation of any website other than its own website. The presence of a link or a search term does not imply and is not an endorsement by Goldberg & Osborne of the website provider or the information contained on any linked website or on any website contained in search results from a search term provided in the guide.