Selecting a Doctor


Selecting a physician is an important task in the best of circumstances, but when faced with selecting a a physician who is knowledgeable of the needs for the elderly population, the task becomes even more difficult. One of the difficulties is the number of doctors who specialize in geriatric medicine.

At a time when the elderly population is increasing, the number of physicians who specialize in geriatrics is going down. The American Geriatrics Society reports there are less than half the number of geriatric physicians needed a refrain that is echoed in the recent report Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce by the Institute of Medicine.

Faced with a limited number of physicians who specialize in providing healthcare to older Americans, patients, family and friends need to be prepared to take the time to select a physician who not only offers quality care, but is also sensitive to the needs of the elderly.

Listed below are some suggestions we have gathered from seniors, and relatives of seniors as they set about the task of selecting a doctor.

What to consider when selecting a doctor

  1. It is important to locate a doctor that is sensitive to the needs of elderly patents. If you cannot find someone who has specialized in geriatrics then identify a doctor who has a reputation for working effectively with older people.
  2. If an older person has had surgery or is seeing a specialist it is important that their primary physician is kept informed of the individuals condition, what tests that have been performed, changes in medication, and any changes in the individual’s overall prognosis.
  3. When meeting with a new doctor it is important that the elder person’s medical history is up to date. It is often useful to have a friend or relative prepare the patient for the initial visit and be present at the appointment to assist in providing additional information or communicating with the elder person following the appointment. If no one is available to accompany the elder person to this visit, it may be useful to hire a patient advocate.
  4. Talk with friends and others in your community about doctors they might recommend.  It is often the case that others have been in the situation where they needed to locate a doctor for an elder person or know or others who have discussed this experience.
  5. Communication is vital. As good as an individual doctor may be, it he or she is a poor communicator, will not respond to telephone inquiries, or will not take the time to discuss the needs of the elder patient, consider selecting another doctor.


The National Institute on Aging provides a brief, concise  and useful description of how to select a doctor. This information focuses on the types of physicians you may wish to select, the value of asking around for recommendations, questions you may wish to ask the doctors office staff, and questions you should ask during your first appointment with the physician.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has created a comprehensive on-line resource for selecting a doctor and forms for documenting the medical history of  patient. This resource provides information on who you should decide what you want from your doctor, how you go about making a list of potential doctors, how to check on quality of the doctor and links to Web sites that provide information on specific doctors, a questionnaire to use with office staff, what information you should be prepared to provide to your doctor, how to ask questions of your doctor, and a personal health form that you can complete and provide doctors and other health care professionals.

Talking with Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People is a comprehensive on-line booklet published by the National Institute on Aging. Included in this 44 page booklet are the following topics:

  • Choosing a doctor you can talk to.
  • Preparing for a doctor appointment.
  • Getting information about medical tests, your medications, and your diagnosis.
  • Making decisions with your doctor on treatment and prevention.
  • Talking to specialists, surgeons, and hospital staff.
  • Practical matters such as driving, moving to assisted living, paying for medications, planning for serious illness.
  • Discussing sensitive subjects with your doctor.
  • Involving your family and friends with your medical condition.

The American Geriatrics Society provides on on-line referral service for individuals seeking a physician who specializes in working with elder individuals. Users complete an on-line referral request then receive a listing of physicians in their area.

(photo: apoxapox)