How to Choose a Primary Care Provider
If managing your health were a business, your primary care provider (PCP) might be considered the president and CEO. This is the person who oversees the big picture and keeps a steady eye on the bottom line — keeping you healthy.
With an increasing focus on preventive care, the role of the PCP is perhaps more important than ever. This is the doctor who performs patients’ annual physicals and keeps track of their health screenings and vaccinations. It’s also the first person patients usually go to when they have a health question or concern.
When it’s time to choose their primary care doctor, patients should remember that they’re in the driver’s seat, and it’s important that they find a doctor who’s right for them. Their primary care doctor is someone they will see for many years, possibly even for their lifetime. So it’s important that patients find a doctor they feel comfortable with.
Of course, unlike when a business chooses a CEO, most people don’t have a board of directors or a human resources team to help them pick their primary care provider. Here are five things to consider in choosing a physician who is right for you.
1. What kind of doctor would be best for you?
Even within the category of “primary care,” there are different kinds of doctors you can choose from depending on your individual health needs. Most of us are familiar with pediatricians, who care for children. On the opposite end of the spectrum are geriatricians, who specialize in caring for older adults. Also, some OB/GYN doctors provide both primary care and specialized care for women’s health. Internists provide general care for adults, both men and women, and may be able to offer specialized care in a particular area like cardiology. Last but definitely not least, family or general practitioners provide care for a wide range of ages and health issues.
2. Which doctors are covered by your insurance plan?
Many insurance plans limit coverage to certain doctors and charge extra out-of-pocket costs if patients stray from the plan, so it’s good to check with your insurance carrier to see which doctors are included in your plan.
3. How accessible and welcoming is the doctor’s office?
First, and perhaps most importantly, is the doctor accepting new patients? Also, what are the office hours, how far is the office from your home, and how friendly and responsive is the office staff?
4. What is the doctor’s philosophy and approach to care?
It’s important for patients to feel comfortable asking questions and sharing sometimes very personal health concerns with their doctor. Some questions to consider are: Does the provider work with physician assistants (PAs) or nurse practitioners? Is this a single practice, or might you see more than one physician? And how does the office communicate with patients? Many doctors today offer ways for patients to communicate and even schedule appointments electronically (e.g., via email), which may be helpful and more convenient for some patients.
Some primary care doctors in the Crozer-Keystone Health Network offer what they call a “medical home” approach to care, which implements innovations like electronic communication and coordinates a patient’s care across all elements of the healthcare system, including hospitals, specialists, home health agencies and nursing homes.
5. What do friends and others say?
For many patients, it can be helpful to get recommendations from friends, colleagues, relatives and others to find out what their experience was like.
Of course, in the end, each person knows what’s best for himself or herself. If you’re getting ready to choose your doctor, remember that it’s important to ask questions. The doctor’s office staff should be able to help. A company wouldn’t hire a CEO without first making sure of his or her credentials and neither should you.
If you’re in the market for a primary care physician, it’s important to find someone who meets your needs and will be a partner in keeping you healthy.