A family practitioner is a physician that treats all ages of patients for routine illness or injury (cold, flu or broken bone), chronic medical conditions and screening for more advanced diseases. In addition, a family practitioner promotes disease prevention by advising patients about risk factors associated with more difficult diseases.
Just as important is the family practitioner's role as a referrer or gatekeeper to specialists. When you have symptoms that require attention by a specialist, your family doctor can be the person who determines which type of specialist you need to see. Afterward, the doctor and specialist can coordinate your care.
There are different kinds of family practitioners, also called "primary care physicians." Many family practitioners take care of all family members. An obstetrician cares for babies before and during birth. A pediatrician cares for babies after birth and children generally up to age 18. An internist is trained to care for adults ages 18 and older. A geriatrician specializes in care for older people, generally ages 65 and older.
The label General Practitioner (GP) is sometimes used to refer to a family practitioner, although that term is older and falling out of general use.
A Family Practitioner's Training and Credentials
Family practice physicians complete medical school and training in a graduate residency program, studying physical, mental and emotional aspects of human health and all of the body's systems. Their education requires time spent in classrooms, medical offices and hospitals, working directly with patients and other medical professionals.
There are two forms of residency programs: one leads to an medical doctor (MD) and the other leads to a osteopathic doctor (DO). Both designations require a similar amount of education but focus differently; an MD practices allopathic medicine, considered to be conventional medicine in the United States, which looks at the body as a series of separately functioning systems, and a DO learns more about the human musculoskeletal system and approaches the body as a whole system.
Some family practitioners continue their education beyond residency in fellowship programs, which allow them to concentrate in specialty areas of family practice, including obstetrics, sports medicine, palliative care, research and others.
Once a physician has completed these aspects of education, he may apply to be a certified member of the American Board of Family Medicine, the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians or another board that addresses obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics or geriatrics. Board membership requires frequent recertification, and to accomplish that, the physician must complete annual coursework requirements.
How to Choose the Right Family Practitioner for You
To find the right fit between you (the patient) and a family practitioner, you'll want to identify possibilities, research their credentials and then assess their capabilities for partnering with you.
Make a List of Possibilities
Compare these lists to find names in common. Those will be the doctors you want to spend time learning more about by researching their credentials and capabilities.
Research Their Credentials
Using the list of names you have collected, look for most of the following information on UCompareHealthCare.com:
Assess Their Capabilities
Once you have vetted your list based on the criteria above, you'll want to ask the following questions to determine which doctors are worth meeting:
If you are satisfied with the answers to these questions, you'll need to make an appointment, where you'll want to consider this:
Finding the right family practitioner may seem like a long, involved process; however, knowing that this doctor may partner with you for a lifetime makes it worth your time and effort.
Guide to Patient Empowerment, About.com
Learn more about finding the right Family Practice Doctor for you at About.com.