Senior Health

6/24/2021 | By Kari Smith

Just as a mother-to-be would search for an obstetrician, or a patient with cancer would seek out a qualified oncologist, an elderly loved one should carefully search for a primary care doctor who can meet their specific needs. It may not be as easy as picking a name from an insurance provider’s list, or doing a quick internet search – especially if the senior has a specific medical diagnosis such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, diabetes, or respiratory disease. For this reason, choosing a primary care physician with elder care experience may be best.

Although it is not necessary to choose a geriatrician specifically, keep in mind that this type of doctor specializes in the needs of elderly patients, and may be best suited to the needs of an aging patient.


Let’s face it – a medical professional is someone who will become intimately familiar with some of a patient’s most personal issues. Invest sufficient time to ensure that the doctor you choose is someone with whom you feel entirely comfortable. Feeling that a doctor does not hear or care about your concerns is unfortunately more common than it should be, so do your homework to find one that you feel at ease with and trust.


Although many people are willing to drive further for a doctor that otherwise “checks all the boxes,” it is important to consider the distance to a potential primary care doctor. It’s especially crucial for seniors with mobility issues, those who do not drive, or those who depend on taxi services for medical appointments. In addition to distance, choose a doctor’s office that offers easy, accessible parking. Even an office in a larger building may be acceptable if there is regular valet service, but be sure to check this out before establishing care.

You may also consider alternative options; look into choosing a primary care physician who offers in-home doctor visits or can do telehealth from the comfort of your home. Given that many of us were forced into using virtual services during the recent pandemic, virtual services may be a bit more comfortable now for some than they would have been in the past.

Choosing a Primary Care Physician Based on Referrals

Ask around – senior friends or loved ones may have a primary care doctor that they recommend. Inversely, they may have had an experience that keeps you from wanting to use a specific doctor. Be sure to call recommended doctors to find out if they are taking new patients, and have your insurance cards handy so that they confirm whether they accept your insurance benefits.

Insurance Networks

Unless you are paying out of pocket, you will want your physician to be in-network so that your visits are covered by insurance. Many older adults are insured by Medicare, but many doctors do not accept Medicare; so this must be established ahead of time so that you do not incur out of pocket medical costs.

Do not just blindly pick a doctor off your insurance company’s provider list. After narrowing down to the available doctors in your preferred area, do your research on any doctors that interest you. Look at their background, education, and specialties. Check out doctor reviews online. Do patients describe this doctor as knowledgeable, caring, and patient? Although patient reviews can be biased (not every patient will have the same experience that one has), it can be helpful to see if there is a trend toward a specifically negative trait.

Also, consider hospitals in your network. If you or your senior loved one have conditions that require hospitalization, it may be helpful to know if your physician is covered in the network of hospitals that your insurance company pays for.

After choosing a primary care physician, make your first visit. Be sure to write down questions and concerns ahead of time, and observe how your doctor makes the time to listen patiently and address your concerns. If you are not satisfied, do not be discouraged – remember that this relationship will be an ongoing one, and it is worth the effort to make sure you have the right one.

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith