It is important to go to a doctor when you or a family member is feeling sick. It is also good to see a doctor regularly just to check your health. Learn how to find a doctor, make an appointment and what to expect when you go to the doctor’s office. Be prepared for an emergency by knowing what to do ahead of time.
How do I find a doctor?
If you have health insurance, you can call your health insurance company or go to their website to find a doctor near you. They will let you know which doctors take your health insurance. You can also ask a friend or your resettlement office for a recommendation. Learn more about getting health insurance.
If you do not have health insurance, you can get low-cost health care at a nearby community health center or health clinic. How much you pay depends on your income. Some even offer care for free. Your immigration status should not affect your care. Their care can vary but could include:
- Primary health care
- Prenatal care for pregnant women
- Laboratory testing
- Ongoing care for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma
- Dental care
- Mental health services
- Physical therapy
- Referrals to specialists
- Free or low-cost prescriptions
A primary care doctor (PCP) oversees all your basic medical needs. They provide general care and different healthcare services for common medical problems. You will see your primary care doctor regularly for general check-ups. You can also visit your primary care doctor when you are feeling sick.
Your PCP may be a doctor (physician), a physician’s assistant, or a nurse practitioner. Pediatricians are primary care doctors for children but many doctors see patients of all ages. You may see the same PCP for many years.
Examples of when you would see your primary care doctor:
- Yearly health check-up
- Preventative health screening and tests
- Immunizations and vaccinations
- Common illnesses, including cold, allergies, flu, ear infections
- Chronic conditions, including asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease
- Referrals to specialists
Your primary care provider may send you to a specialist for certain injuries and illnesses. A specialist is a healthcare provider who focuses on a specific organ or body system or part of the body. For example, a dermatologist helps with problems with your skin. A gastroenterologist cares for the digestive system.
Examples of when you would see a specialist:
- Frequent pain and other symptoms
- A mole on your skin has changed shape or color
- Your child has not started to speak
A referral is a recommendation that you see another healthcare provider such as a specialist. You may need to ask your PCP for a referral before you see a specialist. The specialist might require a referral or your insurance company might require it. It is good to check to make sure your insurance will cover the visit.
How do I make an appointment to go to the doctor?
You can make an appointment by calling the doctor’s office and telling them why you need to see a doctor.
- If you need help with English, you can ask the office to get a translator on the phone or ask a friend or relative to call for you.
- If you prefer to see a woman or man doctor, you should share this
- If you are undocumented, it is good to ask if they require ID or any other documents.
- If you have health insurance, be sure to have your health insurance card in front of you. You may be asked to provide your member ID number.
The doctor’s office will offer you an appointment time. You can always ask for other options if the one they offer is not good for you. Sometimes it will take a while for an appointment to be available.
Write down the appointment date, time, and location. Once you have made your appointment, try to keep it. Many doctors have strict cancellation policies. If you do not show up or cancel the appointment too late, you may have to pay a cancellation fee. If you have to cancel, try to do it at least two days before.
What should I bring to my appointment?
Here is a list of things you should bring:
- Insurance card and any other source of payment
- List of medications you take
- List of any known allergies
- Questions you have for the doctor
- Paper and pen in case you want to write down notes
- Family member or friend if you need help with English, taking notes, or support
What can I expect at a doctor’s appointment?
It is important to be on time for your appointment. Some clinics will ask you to arrive 10 to 15 minutes early to fill out forms. Sometimes, you will see more than one medical professional at the appointment, such as a nurse who checks your vitals first. You will be directed to a private room or space to meet with your doctor.
Tips for meeting with your doctor:
- Take notes. It is helpful to have notes to review later.
- Be truthful. Your provider will ask you questions to help understand your health. It is important that you answer these questions honestly and accurately so your doctor can find the best treatment for you.
- Ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your doctor to repeat or explain something.
- Learn more. Your provider may make a diagnosis to identify a specific illness affecting you. Make sure you understand both the diagnosis and treatment plan.
- Make sure you understand the next steps. You may need to get a prescription or a follow-up appointment. Ask the doctor for an appointment summary with any directions.
Your rights at the doctor’s office
- You have the right to equal treatment. It is against the law for a medical care provider to refuse treatment because of your race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.
- If you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to speak up. It is okay to ask for a woman or male provider.
- You have the right to a translator. If you speak a language other than English, you can always ask for an interpreter. Most doctor’s offices and hospitals will be able to find someone who can assist you.
- You do not have to share your immigration status. Healthcare providers do not need to ask you about your status and they are not required to report it either. It is not typically asked but could be to help them understand your situation. It is up to you what you share.
- Undocumented immigrants can receive medical care at a variety of healthcare facilities, including federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), urgent care clinics, public hospitals, and emergency rooms.
What if I have an emergency?
It is good to know what to do in an emergency before one happens. Look up where your nearest emergency room is. Learn your options based on the kind of emergency you have.
You should only call 911 in an extreme emergency when you don’t have time to get other help. You will be connected to a trained medical responder who can tell you what to do. If needed, they can have an ambulance come to take you or your loved one to the hospital.
Examples of when you should call 911:
- Difficulty breathing
- Head injury with passing out, fainting, or confusion
- Injury to the neck or spine, particularly if there is loss of feeling or inability to move
- Severe burns and cuts
- Severe chest pain or pressure
- Severe allergic reaction (difficulty swallowing or breathing)
- Slurred speech, sudden numbness or weakness, sudden dizziness
- Bleeding or pain during pregnancy
Go to a hospital emergency room
Most hospitals have an emergency department. This is a special section of the hospital that helps with life-threatening and urgent healthcare needs. Most emergency departments are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Examples of when you would go to the hospital:
- Broken bone
- Trouble breathing
- Deep wound or cut
- Serious burn
- Severe pain
Go to urgent care and walk-in clinics
You can go to urgent care and walk-in clinics for medical issues that are not emergencies. These often have evening and weekend hours and provide care without an appointment.
Examples of when you might visit an urgent care office:
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Sprained ankle
Some urgent care and walk-in clinics offer free or reduced-cost care for people without health insurance. Call the clinic ahead of time to ask about fees and options for people without insurance.