What a family practice does

Family doctors develop a relationship with their patients that can be helpful in knowing their medical and family history with disease and illness and guiding overall care. A family practice stresses the importance of preventive care, which can help extend your lifespan and prevent premature death while reducing dependence on emergency rooms and hospitals.

Patients searching for the best family doctors should heed medical reviews of doctors. In addition, follow these tips to find the right doctor for you.

Family doctors make diagnoses, counsel patients on chronic conditions and medical treatment options, order tests, suggest treatment options, prescribe medication and refer patients to specialists. In rating Top Doctors and Dentists, Angie's List draws from member reviews that address various aspects of their care, from bedside manner to effectiveness of treatment. In searching for a family doctor, it's important to find a provider with whom you feel comfortable to serve as a trusted partner in your health care.

Go prepared as well to your first doctor's visit, from checking out whether they're covered by your insurance plan — and if they're in-network — to listing out questions before hand to make the most of your time in the physician's office. That will help put you on track to get the best care possible.

Video: Cut doctor wait time

Family doctor qualifications

To work as a family physician in the United States, a doctor must earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) and complete a three-year residency. During their residency, doctors learn about issues such as the patient-doctor relationship, sleep medicine, adolescent medicine and preventive medicine.

In most countries, doctors need to pass a board examination in order to work as a family doctor. The American board also requires that doctors receive continuing education and retake the board examination at least once every 10 years. It's important that doctors you see are licensed to practice in your state. Verify licensing with your state medical board or use the Angie's List Licensing tool.

Individuals working in this field may work in a private practice, group practice, a public health role or hospital or do research.

How to find a family doctor

If you're on a medical insurance plan, you should check your insurance providers list of doctors in your network. Read through the listing of GPs in the provider directory available from your health insurance company. Carefully research the doctors you are considering. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, insurance carriers they use and hospital affiliations by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see reviews from other members in that doctor's care.

If you have a chronic condition, you may want to look up advocacy associations to receive referrals for primary care doctors knowledgeable in working with patients with your condition. Several state associations can help you to research a doctor.  

When you've narrowed down your list, visit the doctor's office. You should feel confident that you can get in touch with your doctor when necessary and that office staff are helpful. Make sure that the doctor's hours fit with your schedule. You may also wish to ask if there are alternative ways to contact your doctor if you have a question, such as via email.

Be sure to observe the doctor's personality and find out his or her approach to diagnosis and treatment. Some doctors have a more professional communication style while others are more laid-back. Some doctors also tend to be more thorough in testing, focus on prevention or offer more aggressive treatments. Look for a doctor who you are comfortable with. Finally, make sure that the doctor you choose values your opinion and allows you to work as a team to ensure you get the best health care possible. Family medicine is an important field in the health care system.

Nurse practitioners

Nurse practitioners specialize in different areas of medicine in the same way a family physician may choose to specialize. For more information, read Angie's List Guide to Nurse Practitioners.

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