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For seniors, there are three main choices for a primary care provider — a family practitioner, an internal medicine physician or a geriatrician.
Make sure your potential new provider is convenient for you, provides plenty of parking and is easy to find when you’re in the building.
It can be helpful to have a doctor who is connected to a larger health system.
If you’re in your mid-60s or older, there may be many aspects of your life that are long-standing and familiar, such as a hair stylist, place of worship or primary care provider. But what if you need to make a change? What happens if your primary care provider retires, moves away or is no longer covered under your insurance plan?
When you’re looking for a health care provider, it’s important to find one that’s the right fit for you. Some people want a compassionate caregiver who will inquire about their personal life and ask leading questions, while others would prefer a provider who’s more straightforward.
Whatever your preference, look for a provider who’s board certified, which means they have additional training and certification in their field of expertise. Your choices include:
- Family practitioners — provide care for a wide range of medical conditions without a focus on any specific area of medicine
- Internists — provide care for adults, specifically
- Geriatricians—specialize in care for older adults, typically 65+
Do your homework
A little research can help you make an informed decision:
- Talk to friends, family, and anyone whose opinion you respect to get recommendations.
- Look online and read reviews.
- Ask the health care professionals you know whom they trust with their care.
Once you’ve whittled down the list, it’s time to make your final pick and set up an appointment with your new caregiver.
Here are 10 things to keep in mind as you make your decision:
Age-appropriate care and testing
Health care for seniors requires different expertise than treating children or younger adults. You want a doctor who specializes in managing the unique health challenges of older adults such as:
- Multiple medical conditions
- Decline in physical function
- Diseases like dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), incontinence or osteoporosis
Every aspect of your care — including office visits, tests, medications, procedures and more — should be focused on providing evidence-based care that takes your age into account.
Good communication skills are one of the most important skills a doctor can have. It’s important to have someone who looks you in the eye and talks to you — not at you. Finding a doctor who listens to your concerns and treats you with the respect and dignity you deserve is well worth the search. It’s also important to have a provider who’s comfortable working with patients who may have disabilities.
Caution when treating older patients
It’s important to find a provider who will think twice before prescribing a new medication or treatment. There is little data to back up many treatments that are commonly used with older patients and they could cause significant side effects, so caution is important. One example is aggressive prostate cancer treatment in older men, which may be unnecessary because prostate cancer can often be slow to grow.
Dignity and respect
It’s very important that a provider pays attention to the individual patient, and doesn’t just look past them to their family member or caregiver. Patients who have dementia or other processing challenges may have difficulties understanding some information, but they still want to play an active role in their own life.
Your primary care provider will play a big role in this stage of your life. Take the time to make sure you have found the right fit.
Health insurance coverage
If you use an insurance company or a government program like Medicare or Medicaid, your options may be limited to a specific list of names. Make sure your new doctor accepts your health plan before putting your name on their patient list.
Health system access
A doctor who’s connected to a multi-faceted health system has access to the resources, specialists, programs and services that make up the comprehensive care you need. Check to see what other specialties are in their network — for example, cardiologists, dietitians, physical therapists or others whom you may need if you have an injury or are managing an ongoing health condition. You never know when you might need a referral.
Location applies to more than buying a house. Is the new doctor’s office located somewhere that’s easily accessible to you? Is there enough parking? Are lab work and imaging tests performed on-site, or do you need to go to a different location for tests and screenings? Is the office accessible and easy to navigate while in the building?
Geriatric specialists understand the multiple medications many seniors take. They monitor and adjust the prescriptions you take regularly to help you manage your conditions and limit your use of unneeded medication. They also watch for potential side effects or harmful drug interactions.
When looking at a specific office, call and ask about providers’ availability after-hours. If you can reach an on-call provider during evenings and weekends, that may keep you out of the hospital, which is especially important as you grow older.
Ask your potential provider about their privacy policies. Although all doctor’s offices are required to comply with regulations that respect your right to privacy, you also want to make sure that your doctor will honor your preferences. Will they share information with your family or loved ones if you do or do not want them to? Can a family member or close friend accompany you to your appointments?
Find a doctor
When you’re searching for someone to help you navigate your health journey in all its stages, our team of geriatric specialists could be the answer. Find a doctor who understands the special needs of older adults in our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.
Download the Providence App
We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.