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What is a “health care provider” and what you should watch out for when choosing one

Factchequeado |February 14th, 2024

A good healthcare provider can help you stay healthy, prevent disease, and manage chronic conditions effectively. Hence, the importance of finding a professional with whom you feel comfortable talking about your health-related needs and concerns. Here's what a healthcare provider is and what to consider when choosing one.

What is a health care provider?

A health care provider is a person or entity that provides health care services to patients. This includes doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, or specialists with a formal qualification, such as dermatologists, cardiologists, or gynecologists. These professionals may work in private practices, hospitals, clinics, or urgent care centers.

If you want to look for a healthcare provider, the first thing you need to consider is which type best suits your needs and preferences. For most people, a good option for primary care is a primary care physician or board-certified internist, according to Healthwise.

For children and adolescents, an alternative is a pediatrician or primary care physician with a board certified child or adolescent specialty, for those between the ages of 11 and 21 years.

Some people choose a "mid-level" provider, such as a physician assistant or nurse practitioner. "These providers can diagnose and treat many basic health problems, and they often work with a doctor as part of a health care team," Healthwise explains.

If you suffer from a pathology or there is something related to your health that specifically concerns you, you can also opt for a specialist. That is, a doctor with training in a specific area of medicine. For example, a neurologist, a gynecologist, or an allergist.

How do I find a health care provider?

To find a doctor or health care provider, it can be helpful to ask people you know for recommendations, as the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion says: "Ask your friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers if they have a doctor they like."

The American Medical Association (AMA) offers a directory of doctors from all over the United States on this website. If you have health insurance, you may need to choose from a list of doctors or providers in your plan's network. "Some insurance plans may allow you to choose an out-of-network doctor if you pay more of the cost," the agency says.

Another option is to turn to the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (NAHH), which represents thousands of Hispanic health providers nationwide who provide services to more than 15 million people each year. You can ask this association for advice or access their resources on their website or through the toll-free Hispanic Family Health Helpline at 866-783-2645.

What to look for when choosing a health care provider?

"Choosing a medical provider is one of the most critical and often complex decisions patients make about their health care," say the authors of a study published in 2022 in the Journal of Patient Experience. The article warns that many people feel that this choice affects the course of treatment and, ultimately, health outcomes.

The authors surveyed 1,388 people, 15.9% of whom were Latina. When choosing a provider, most participants looked at medical licensure, certification, and whether the provider accepted their health insurance. While previous experience was also an essential determinant, they didn't place as much importance on the type of provider, recommendations from others, and online reviews.

A good option to find the provider that best suits your needs is to make a list of those that interest you. To do this, it is advisable that you ask them a few questions beforehand: if they accept new patients, if they speak your language, if you can easily get to the place where they are going to see you, if they have experience in treating your conditions, if they have an official degree or specific certifications, if they offer evening or weekend appointments, if they attend by phone, what the cancellation policy is, or how long it will take you to get an appointment.

After a first visit, it's a good idea to ask yourself additional questions. For example, if the staff made you feel comfortable, if they listened carefully and clearly explained the situation, if they took into account important information about your medical history, if it happened enough time with you or if it gave you a chance to ask questions. "If the answer to any of these questions is 'no,' you may want to keep looking," states the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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