A generation ago, health care options were limited. A family doctor typically gave you a physical when you needed one and put you in the hospital when necessary. Medical choices were few.

Today, the health care system has exploded with a mind-spinning array of options -- from health maintenance organizations to walk-in clinics, birthing rooms, independent practice associations and a diversity of medical specialties.

Consider the statistics:

* In 1950 there were 149 doctors for every 100,000 Americans. By 1982 that number had jumped to 191 and is expected to reach and 271 by 2000. The Washington metropolitan area has among the most physicians per capita with 573 per 100,000 population.

* Some 30 competing health insurance plans are available locally, up from fewer than half a dozen in 1937.

* Hospital occupancy rates fell to 67 percent in 1984, down from 72 percent in 1983. As a result, hospitals are offering varied services -- from outpatient surgery to luxury suites -- to grab a share of the dwindling patient population.

Increased competition for your health care dollar means that more and more health care providers are using marketing techniques to attract and retain patients. Doctors, hospitals and insurance plans are now focusing on the patient as consumer and using varied approaches to capture a share of the market.