Choosing the Right Doctor

Choosing the right physician can be challenging, somewhat tricky and a little stressful, but it's one of the most important things you will ever do for yourself or your family. Often, we wait until we're sick and then choose a doctor out of urgency or necessity, with little or no information about the physician's qualifications, availability, hospital affiliations or philosophy regarding patient care. It's much better, however, to choose your primary care physician (PCP) when you're healthy - perhaps during your employer's annual open enrollment process, when you begin a new job, after moving to a new area, or following other life changes. If you receive your health insurance through your employer, your human resources department can provide you with a printed or online directory of the physicians that are available in your plan. These directories will list the physicians' names and office addresses. You should, however, gather much more information as you consider which physician will most appropriately serve the health care needs of your family.

Providence Health & Services, Southern California has thousands of excellent primary care physicians and specialists on staff to care for your family. When it's time to choose your health plan or physician, it's also time to consider which hospital you'd prefer for medical care. Providence Holy Cross, Providence Little Company Of Mary San Pedro, Providence Little Company Of Mary Torrance, Providence Saint John's, Providence Saint Joseph and Providence Tarzana Medical Centers are all contracted with most major insurance carriers and physician groups so you know you'll receive high-quality care at in-network health plan member rates. In-network means less out-of-pocket costs to you.

To help you choose the doctor who is right for your family or for more information about physicians affiliated with the Providence Medical Center of your choice, search our online Physician Referral Directory or contact our Health Resource Center at 1-888-HEALING (1-888-432-5464) to request detailed information profiling each physician's education, qualifications, services and office locations.

Important Questions To Ask Before Selecting A Physician

Will my health insurance plan be accepted?

Contact the physician's office where you would like to receive care to confirm that your health insurance plan will be accepted. Provider directories, particularly printed directories, frequently become outdated; so it's always a good idea to verify your insurance with your physician's office before you schedule an appointment.

What are the physician's qualifications?

Becoming a qualified physician is demanding and extensive, beginning in college and medical school and continuing throughout the physician's career. Having information about the physician's education and training may help you feel more comfortable about deciding to trust a physician with your family's care. Some qualifications to consider include-
  • Medical School: Four years of education at an accredited medical school.
  • Residency: Three to seven years of professional training supervised by qualified physician educators.
  • Fellowship: One to three years of additional training in a subspecialty to become highly specialized in a particular field.
  • Board Certification: An optional, voluntary process that indicates the physician has completed several years of training beyond medical school, practiced for a designated number of years in that specialty and passed exams in a specialty area. Good physicians need not be board certified, but it is one indicator of knowledge and professionalism.
  • Licensing: After completing a series of exams and a minimum number of years of graduate medical education, physicians apply for a permanent license to practice from the state or jurisdiction of the United States in which they plan to care for patients. You should check to make sure the physician you choose holds a valid license to practice medicine.
  • Specialized Experience: Physicians who specialize in a particular area of medicine (specialists) should be able to provide information about how many times he or she has performed procedures/given treatment related to a specific condition (such as heart surgery, oncology, gastroenterology, etc.) and how well their patients recover from these treatments or procedures. These statistics are called "outcomes" and can be accessed through many quality or state ratings organizations.

What is the physician's availability?

Is the physician accepting new patients? How long does it take to get an appointment as a new patient? How long does it take to get an appointment as an established patient? Who will provide your care when your physician is unavailable?

Is the physician's office conveniently located near your home or workplace?

Does the physician operate out of multiple office locations? When does he practice out of your location of choice? Receiving the absolute best care, however, may outweigh issues related to convenience.

What are the physician's office hours?

Are evening and weekend appointments available? Is he or she available by phone? If you have a serious medical condition or problem, you need a physician who is easily accessible even during "off-hours."

With which hospitals is the physician affiliated with?

If your physician is not on staff (affiliated with) the hospital of your choice, another physician will provide your care if you are admitted. To find out if your physician is affiliated with the Providence Medical Center of your choice, search our online Physician Referral Directory or contact our Health Resource Center at 1-888-HEALING (1-888-432-5464) to request detailed information profiling each physician's education, qualifications, services and office locations.

What are the qualifications of the specialists in the physician's group or network (sometimes referred to as an Independent Practice Association, or IPA), and with which hospitals are these specialists affiliated?

Frequently in health care, primary care physicians (PCPs) will refer their patients only to specific specialists within a health insurance plan. This may occur even when many other specialists are listed in the health plan's provider directory. A PCP's decision to refer you to a particular specialist may be influenced by your physician's relationships with certain specialists, or for other reasons, such as prearranged reimbursement contracts. Furthermore, your PCP's "preferred" specialists may perform procedures only at certain hospitals, also based on established relationships or prearranged reimbursement contracts. In addition, some PCPs and groups may rely on hospitalists to care for patients who are in the hospital. Therefore, when selecting a PCP, it is also important to consider factors related to the qualifications of the specialists and quality and convenience of the hospitals to which you may be referred by your PCP in the event that you require specialized treatment for a specific condition.

What services are available in or nearby the physician's office?

It will be much more convenient for you if the physician performs laboratory tests, X-rays or other screening and diagnostic tests in the office or is located within walking distance of a facility that offers these tests.

How comfortable are you with the physician?

Medical issues are personal; so you'll want to be able to trust your physician with those issues. Also consider how your physician responds to your questions. 

Does your physician explain things in medical jargon or in terms you can understand? Does your physician take the time to answer your questions thoroughly?

The physicians affiliated with Providence have proudly served the South Bay, San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys for several decades as premiere providers of quality health care. In addition, our physicians collaborate with many of the leading medical specialists and institutions in the country to care for patients with specialized conditions. As a result, patients enjoy convenient access to the highest quality medical care available locally or wherever they may need.

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