Having a primary care physician (PCP) is an important part of your overall health plan. But, how do you pick the right doctor? You may be tempted to pick a doctor at random and hope for the best, but keep in mind that your PCP becomes a key part of your healthcare decisions. If you only see your physician for routine appointments, you may not know if they’re a good fit for you until you’re in a crisis. It’s worth your time to select a primary care physician carefully. Here are Better Health Advisors' tips for finding a PCP you like and trust:

  1. Think about what kind of doctor you prefer. Do you feel more comfortable with a male or female doctor? Someone who is accessible if you need a same-day appointment? A strong communicator? Someone who values complementary medicine? Keep your preferences in mind as you look for a PCP. Is the doctor compassionate? According to a recent article in The New York Times, "having a doctor who is warm and reassuring actually improves your health."
  2. Consider which specialties are important to you. Your PCP is the doctor you’ll go to for routine illnesses, regular screenings, and for referrals to specialists, but he or she may also have a particular focus. You may want a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent care or a geriatrician who works with seniors.
  3. Ask people you trust to give you referrals. Talk to friends, family, or a health advisor about the kind of PCP you're looking for, and ask if they know any doctors who might meet your needs.
  4. Check which doctors are “in-network” on your insurance plan. Once you have a few names in mind, login to your insurance company’s website, and search the provider directory to see if those doctors participate in your insurance plan. You may also want to call the company in case their online directory is out of date. (If you decide to see a doctor who isn’t part of your plan, you could face higher “out-of-network” charges or denied claims.)
  5. Check their location and office hours. While proximity shouldn’t be your only reason for choosing a doctor, it’s definitely worth considering. If you expect to go to appointments during your work day, you might prefer a PCP near your job. If you work nine to five and it’s not easy to get away during the day, look for a doctor who has office hours at night or on the weekends.
  6. Find out if they’re accepting new patients. Even if your health insurance company’s website says a particular PCP is accepting new patients, that may not be up to date. It’s worth calling the doctor’s office to be sure.
  7. Interview your new doctor. When you visit a doctor for the first time, here are a few things to consider:
  • How long does it take to get an appointment?
  • Does the staff seem organized?
  • When you arrive, how long do you have to wait to see the doctor?
  • Where did the doctor train?
  • Is the doctor board certified?
  • Does the doctor listen to you and communicate clearly?
  • Does the doctor have admitting privileges at the best hospitals in the area?
  • Will you have access to your medical information online?
  • Can you email the doctor with questions?

Concierge Medicine: Another thought to consider when choosing a new PCP is whether a concierge practice is right for you. Concierge care is also known as direct primary care (DPC) or retainer medicine. It is not meant to be a replacement for insurance- it is simply an add on service and only covers regular outpatient primary care services. Hospitalizations, emergency visits, specialist visits/services, lab work and x-rays are not included. Some concierge physicians will bill insurance for billable services, while others may only take out-of-pocket payments- this will depend on the practice/provider. Also important to consider with a concierge physician is that Medicare does not cover the monthly or annual retainers for these providers. Depending on the type of insurance that you have (PPO, EPO, etc.), your health insurance may cover primary care services but may not reimburse you for concierge medicine payments such as a monthly/annual retainer. However, some patients are able to use money accumulated in health savings accounts to cover these costs.

One of the first concierge medicine practices was located in Los Angeles in the early 1960s. Concierge medicine then came to Seattle in the 1990s, and by 2010, there were 2,400 to 5,000 concierge practices in the United States. By 2014, the number of concierge practices rose to approximately 12,000. The majority of concierge physicians are general internists. 20% are medical subspecialists and 20% are family practitioners. Most concierge practices are located in large urban areas on both East and West coasts.

If, after your first appointment, you’re not confident that you’ve chosen the right doctor, you may find yourself asking, “What now?”  Don’t give up. Try these steps again, or ask Better Health Advisors for guidance.