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For the Public Health by James H. Stephens, Ph.D.
Suggestions on how to select your primary care physician
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    All families should have a primary care physician, whether family members have a current specific medical condition or not. In my professional experience as a university professor and as a health system senior executive, I’ve been asked many times how to find a physician. Whether you are searching for a physician for yourself, your children, or a family member, it is most important to choose a physician whom you can trust. 
    Many factors go into this major decision such as location of the physician’s office, insurance requirements, special language or cultural consideration, and whether you prefer a male or female physician.  Other considerations would include friendliness of the office staff, whether office hours are convenient to your schedule, does the physician order a lot of tests or refer to a specialist frequently, and does the physician have a conservative or aggressive approach to treatment.
    Selecting a primary care physician can give you an ongoing relationship with a single medical professional for a number of years.  Primary care physicians usually provide care in an outpatient setting, such as an office or clinic.  However, if you are admitted to a hospital, your primary care physician may assist in, or direct your care, depending on circumstances.  Board certification demonstrates a physician’s exceptional expertise in a particular specialty and/or sub-specialty of medical practice. You can choose from several types of primary care physicians, including:
General Practitioners - physicians who specialize in providing primaryor basic patient care.
    Family Practitioners - physicians who have completed a family practice residency and are board-certified or board-eligible.  The practice includes children and adults of all ages.
    Pediatricians - physicians who have completed a pediatric residency and are board-certified or board-eligible.  The practice includes newborns, infants, children and adolescents.
    Internists - physicians who have completed a residency in internal medicine and are board-certified or board-eligible.  The practice includes care for adults of all ages.
    Obstetricians/Gynecologists - physicians who have completed a residency in OB/GYN and are board-certified or board-eligible.  The practice includes women, particularly those of childbearing age.
Y    ou can obtain information on local primary care physicians from most healthcare professionals.  In addition, friends, neighbors, or relatives can also be a source of referrals and information.  Many health plans, such as HMOs or PPOs, have Web sites with primary care physician information and credentials to help in your selection. 
    As a result of living in several communities across this country, in addition to actually being in charge as an executive for several hospitals, I am quite impressed with East Georgia Regional Medical Center’s facilities and staff, especially for the population size of our community.  They have a physician referral system called “The Physician Referral Line” (912-486-1510) and they can also assist in a primary care physician selection.
    Having a primary care physician gives you access to preventive care and allows you to be advised on healthy lifestyle choices, to identify and treat medical conditions, to assess urgency of your medical problems, and to refer you to other medical facilities and specialists when necessary.  Therefore, the selection of a primary care physician for you and your family can be one of the most important decisions you will make.

Assistant Professor James H. Stephens, Ph.D., is a distinguished fellow in healthcare leadership in the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University.
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