Choosing the Right Physician for Your Family

By Frederick Jerant

Choosing a new doctor can be a tough job, especially if you’ve just moved to the area. And finding the right specialist can be even tougher.

You can always take a chance by closing your eyes and pointing your finger at a doctor’s name in the yellow pages, but that’s not a wise procedure. Instead, a little digging and talking can help you find the right physician for your family’s varied needs.

Several medical specialists in the Lehigh Valley offered some quick tips to help you narrow down your search. Of course, these are just general suggestions, not a comprehensive checklist.

Family Practice

When selecting a family doctor, says Frank N. Defrank, M.D., a family practitioner with Care Medical Associates in Easton, you must first consider your family’s needs.

“Some family practices might not accept people under the age of 18 or over a certain age,” he says, “or they might not offer gynecological services.” Those can be key considerations if you’re looking for a single doctor to treat your whole family.

Defrank also offers these pointers:

• Be sure the practice has after-hours professional coverage, and doesn’t rely simply on an answering service.

• Certification by the American Academy of Family Practice means that he or she has taken continuing-education medical courses and has passed tests to keep the certification.

• Look for regular hours throughout the week, instead of, for example, one day a week at five different locations.


“Rely more on the doctor’s knowledge base and surgical skills than on word-of-mouth,” says Michael S. Patriarco, D.O., director of minimally invasive surgery at St. Luke’s Center for Advanced Gynecologic Care, Allentown. “A doctor might have a wonderful bedside manner, but not be very adept in the operating room.”

• Research credentials and skills on-line by checking such groups as the American Association of Gynecological Laparoscopists, and the American Institute for Minimally Invasive Surgery.

• Determine if the physician is board-certified in OB/GYN.  “Surgical techniques have changed a lot in the last decade,” Dr. Patriarco says, and certification is a good indicator that the doctor has kept pace with these changes.

• Consider the size of the practice. Will you be happier with a large group, or with a smaller one?

Pain Management

“Managing chronic pain is an evolving field,” says Yasin Khan, M. D., medical director of Comprehensive Pain Management, Allentown, “so be very careful in choosing a physician.”

• Will the doctor offer the full gamut of treatment options, such as oral medications, injectables, implantable devices and physical therapy? Or will you be limited to one or two choices?

• Because some pain medications are potentially addictive, be sure that the doctor will take appropriate steps (blood testing, monitoring side effects, etc.) to keep you safe during treatment.

• Chronic pain also has a psychosocial component, including the possibility of depression. Behavior modification and psychiatric intervention are other avenues of treatment.


“For orthopedics, word-of-mouth is often the most reliable source for finding a local doctor,” says Barry A. Ruht, M. D., owner of the Orthopedic Foot, Ankle and Knee Institute, Allentown.

• These doctors can be certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. Visit to check on certifications.

• Someone in their 20s might have an acute orthopedic problem that gets fixed quickly; an older patient might deal with a chronic condition, such as arthritis. Be sure the practice can accommodate your needs.

• Be aware that some orthopedic surgeons have a general practice, while others undergo extensive additional training in a sub-specialty, such as foot-and-ankle.


“In addition to certification by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” says Michael Schwartz, M.D., of ABC Family Pediatricians, Allentown, “ask about the hospitals where the physician has privileges. Match your desire for ongoing care with the hospital you want.”

• If you’re new to the area, he suggests calling the head nurse in a hospital’s pediatrics unit. He or she can suggest well-established group practices.

• You might prefer a large group, in which you’ll routinely see different doctors (and get a variety of viewpoints), or a smaller one, where you’ll likely see the same physician every time.

• Many pediatricians also offer prenatal visits, and group or individual prenatal classes. It’s a good way to meet the doctors in the practice and ask questions.

Urgent Care

“The main reason for going to an urgent care facility is convenience,” says Elizabeth Khan,

M. D., medical director of Tilghman Medical Center, Allentown, “You don’t have to wait to see your family doctor, and they’re good alternatives to emergency rooms.”

• Although there’s no board certification for urgent care physicians, Khan says most doctors in these facilities are certified in family medicine or other specialties.

• Consider looking for a facility that’s associated with a family practice; by using both facilities, you can experience better continuity of care in routine and emergency matters.

Frederick Jerant, an experienced health writer, has produced feature articles on health and medical topics for nearly 10 years. He’s written about chronic pelvic pain, cholesterol, heart health and childhood obesity, among other topics, and has a knack for simplifying complex medical terms. Despite the rumors, he does not have the AMA on speed-dial. Yet.

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