Frequently Asked Questions

Fast facts and helpful details

We've put together answers to the questions people ask us most, so you have a quick way to get the basics about how we work.

1. What is a medical group? 

A medical group is an organization of doctors and the professionals who support them in caring for patients. Brown & Toland Physicians is a medical group with two physician networks – Brown & Toland and Alta Bates Medical Group. We work with many health insurance and hospital partners to bring you the best in healthcare, wherever you live in the Bay Area. 

2. What hospitals do you use? 

Brown & Toland Physicians connects you to leading hospitals, labs and community health services throughout the Bay Area – from California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco to The Alta Bates Summit Medical Centers in Oakland and Berkeley. See the full list

3. Does Brown & Toland and Alta Bates work with my insurance? 

Brown & Toland and Alta Bates Medical Group are both contracted with many leading health insurance plans. If you have or enroll in any of these plans, you can select us as your medical group. See the full list of plans.

4. What is a Primary Care Physician (PCP)?

A PCP is the doctor you select to be your main doctor if you enroll in an HMO plan. Your PCP works with you to make decisions about your care and to recommend specialists when medically appropriate.

Your PCP plays many roles – primary caregiver, health care advisor, coordinator of specialty care and patient advocate – and can include: 

  • Family/General Practitioners (doctors who treat patients of all ages)
  • Internists (doctors who treat adults and may have a subspecialty)
  • Pediatricians (doctors who treat children)

 It’s easy to find a Brown & Toland or Alta Bates PCP with Find a Doctor. You can search by name or specialty, get directions and more. 

5. What is a specialist?

A specialist is a physician who focuses on one area of medicine, such as allergies or vascular surgery. If you have an HMO plan and need to see a specialist, your primary care physician will refer you to one. Women can go directly to an OB/GYN in the same medical group; they don’t need a referral from their PCP. 

People in PPO plans can usually go directly to any specialist but pay less when they see one in the their health plan’s network.

6. What is a referral?

A referral is a recommendation from your doctor to see a specialist or get a specific service. If you have an HMO, you need a referral from your PCP before getting other types of care. Your PCP will fill out a referral form and either mail the referral to the specialist or give it to you, so you can bring it to your first appointment.

7. What is an authorization?

Some services required an OK from either the health plan or medical group before you get them. The OK is the authorization.

For example, an authorization could be required for specialist care to make sure it is a medical necessity and covered by a patient’s health insurance.  Authorization requests are initiated by your PCP and typically processed within 14 days, except in urgent situations. You will be notified by mail when the authorization has been processed. To check on the status of an authorization, or if you have not received notification after 14 days, please contact Customer Service at 415.972.6002.

8. What if my authorization is denied. How may I appeal?

The first step is to contact your health plan. To do this, you will need the authorization number. If you do not have the authorization number, please contact Customer Service at 415.972.6002.

9. How do I change my personal or benefit information?

Contact your health plan directly – or your employer if you have coverage through your job. Your health plan is responsible for updating your personal and benefit information, and they will notify us with any changes.

10. My company changed health care insurers. Can I keep my current physician?

You can keep your doctor if your new health care insurer works with us. The best thing to do is call us at 415.972.6002 as soon as you learn your company is switching plans.

11. I got a bill from my doctor saying I have to pay because I don’t have coverage. It looks like they billed my old insurance. What do I do?

Please contact our Customer Service at 415.972.6002. We will then make the necessary changes to your account and rebill the correct insurance plan.

12. Who should I call for...?

Call your doctor for:

  • Medical problems or questions
  • Appointments
  • Referrals to specialists (if you have an HMO)

Call your health plan for:

  • Prescription drug and other benefit coverage information
  • To change your PCP or your address.  
  • To obtain an insurance ID card
  • Information about your premiums

Call Brown & Toland Physicians at 415.972.6002 if you have questions about our doctors or services.

13. What do I do in case of an emergency?

An emergency means that there are sudden and severe symptoms that have to be taken care of right away. In cases of life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room. 

For all other urgent care matters, there is a doctor on call at your physician's office 24 hours every day. The on-call doctor will advise you what to do next. After any health crisis, it is important that you call your physician's office, within 48 hours if possible, so that your doctor can be involved in your care.

14. I received a letter from you asking me whether or not a visit to my doctor was related to an accident. I have not been involved in an accident, what should I do?

Often medical treatment related to an accident is covered by the auto insurance of another party. We simply need to know if your medical expenses should be billed to another insurance company. Please answer the questions and mail the questionnaire back to us.

15. How do I appeal a medical review request that has been denied?

You must appeal any denial determination directly to your health plan. All appeal information is included in the denial notice sent to you and your physician.

16. Who do I call to make a complaint?

We want to know if you have a complaint or a concern. You can call us at 415.972.6002 and we will try and take care of it. You also can call your health plan company, using the number on the back of your health plan ID card.