Q & A with MMC expert Ann Skelton, MD
How do you choose the right doctor for you or your family? Be Well asked Dr. Ann Skelton, Chief of Family Medicine at Maine Medical Center, how to go about finding a new doctor or a medical home. If you're searching for a health care provider, let these tips be your guide.
What is a primary care provider, or PCP?
Primary care physicians provide ongoing care to patients, addressing the majority of their health care needs and coordinating any specialty care that may be necessary. They usually practice family medicine - treating patients across the age spectrum; internal medicine - specializing in care for adults; or pediatrics - caring for infants, children, and teens.
Talk to friends and co-workers about their health care providers, and whether they would recommend them. If you have a PCP, you are less likely to visit an Emergency Department and more likely to experience better overall health.
What's important to know when choosing a doctor?
Start by asking if the doctor is accepting new patients. Learn if the practice offers evening or Saturday hours, same day appointments, or communication via email. Think about whether you want the location to be near your home or closer to your workplace. Find out whether they treat patients of all ages and both sexes.Ask what insurances the practice accepts. Do they accept Medicaid (MaineCare) and Medicare? What services are offered at the office (such as x-ray or a lab)? You'll want to know whom you'll talk to if you call the office with a concern, and how long it takes to get a return phone call. You can even ask if home visits are available, or if the doctor visits nursing homes, if that's important to you.
Is it possible to meet the doctor before becoming a patient?
Staff at some practices will meet with prospective patients. This gives you a chance to learn more about how the group operates and is a good time to ask about philosophy of care, such as complementary or alternative approaches. You can ask who is part of the health care team, especially if you have a chronic condition. Is there a care manager? What do they monitor for quality of care? Do they care for patients in the hospital or have a relationship with a hospitalist service? What you learn will help you decide if the practice would be a good fit as your medical home.
What is a medical home?
It's a model of primary care endorsed by organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, and American Osteopathic Association, with lower costs and higher quality outcomes. The key feature is a continuous relationship with a personal physician. Generally, a medical home offers team-based care that focuses on prevention, acute and chronic care management, quality, an electronic health record, and access to care via convenient office hours, email, or web portals.
What if things don't work out with the new doctor?
It's fine to change to another doctor if you aren't comfortable with the caregiver you've chosen.
Take time to establish a relationship with a caregiver you can talk with and relate to, one which knows the details of your health history and understands the health care system. Start your search at www.mmc.org/findadoc.