When your health insurance company asks you to select a primary care physician (PCP), how do you make that choice? 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 really 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Ask people you trust to give you referrals. Talk to friends, neighbors, coworkers, and nearby relatives about the kind of PCP you’re looking for, and ask if they know any doctors who might meet your needs. Online review sites can also help you get a sense of a doctor’s personality and policies, especially if there’s a general consensus.
- 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 You may also want to call the company in case their online directory is out of date.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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Interview your new doctor. When you visit a doctor for the first time, here are a few things to consider:
- 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 seem both competent and compassionate?
- 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?
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.