How To Choose A Primary Care Physician (12 Tips!)

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Charles Fazio

June 4, 2021

Looking for a new primary care physician can be difficult and stressful. 

When it comes down to trusting someone with you health, how do you make the right choice?

Everyone individuals specific needs in a primary care doctor are unique, which can make it hard to rely on recommendations from family and friends alone.

This article lists the 13 most important factors to look out for when finding a new primary care provider.

#1. Do they take my insurance?

The most important factor to consider when looking for a new primary care doctor is insurance. Without health insurance to cover the bill, the majority of Americans would not be able to afford care for their medical conditions. 

Even if a primary care provider does take your insurance, they may not be “in-network”

What does it mean to be in network?

Simply put, health care providers that are in-network have pre negotiated discounted rates, while those that are out-of-network have not agreed to discounted rates, which results in more out of pocket expenses for the patients.

#2. Government or "public" insurance

Do you have public insurance coverage, through popular government services such as Medicare or Medicaid?

In a 2019 study by the National Center for Health Statistics, they found that 26% of persons under age 65 have public insurance such as Medicare or Medicaid. 

If you are part of this 26% of Americans with public insurance, it may be more difficult to find a healthcare provider that meets your needs. This is because the medical office does not collect as much money from insurance companies for your visit, compared to private health insurance plans.

When you find a health care provider that accepts Medicare or Medicaid, ask about typical waiting time for appointments because some practices only take a certain amount of these patients per month, which can result in a long wait to address pressing health concerns. 

#3. Proximity to home or work

The average American spends 34 minutes of travel time to reach their doctors office.

Do you want to spend 34 minutes driving to you primary care doctor?

Depending on your specific needs it may be worth it for you to spend the extra travel time to see a primary care doctors that perfectly fits your needs.

Having too narrow of a proximity to you work or home can severely limit the choices that you have, expanding out further will allow for increased access to different care options. Also, take note of the clinic hours to make sure that it aligns with you personal and work schedule. 

Depending on the clinic, they may have public transportation available as a complimentary service. 

#4. Online reviews

When looking for a new primary care doctor, your first step may be to check online sources for credible reviews. 

If this sounds familiar,  you are not alone. 

According to a 2020 patient experience survey 71% of respondents used online reviews as the first step when finding a new family doctor. Reviews are a powerful tool, the same study found that 43% of respondents would go as far to seek out a family physician that is out-of-network solely based on favorable feedback. 

The best sources to find reviews for clinics and specific primary care doctors are:

  • Google My Business
  • WebMD
  • Vitals
  • Yelp
  • Facebook
  • Healthgrades
  • ZocDoc
 

#5. Recommendations from family and friends

Even though the online sources can be a great option, word of mouth recommendations from trusted family and friends are still an excellent source when it comes to making a decision about your healthcare.

You will quickly find out a short list of trusted providers. It is important to ask how the perform in areas such as: preventive care, communication, quality of care, and recommended treatments. 

#6. Office staff considerations

No matter how quality your primary care doctor is, the tone set by the administrative office staff can make or break the experience.

It is important to take into consideration the tone that is set by other members of the patient care tam such as front desk staff, practice manager, and physicians assistants.

Make sure they attentive, friendly, easy to contact, and show true care for you and your health concerns.

#7. Ease of scheduling

The average wait time for scheduling a first time appointment with family practitioners is 29.3 days. When looking at appointments for medical care with an established provider, the average wait time is cut in half to about 2 weeks. 

Are you willing to wait an entire month to see a primary care physician about an urgent healthcare issue?

Your healthcare concerns are important, and finding the right family medicine doctor that allows you to schedule appointments within a reasonable time frame is key. 

#8. Expertise matching your needs

Do you have health issues such as Heart Disease, Cancer, Chronic Lung Disease, Stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, Diabetes, or Chronic Kidney Disease?

According the the CDC, 60% of adults living in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and 40% have 2 or more chronic conditions.

If you are looking to receive the best all around care possible, finding a physician that has experience in your specific medical issues is key. Primary care not only helps your stay in peak health, find out more in our article 4 Reasons Why You Need A Primary Care Physician.

Beyond specific medical issues, there are different types of primary care physicians. Knowing how to find the right specialties that meed your needs is important. The four main types are Internal Medicine Doctors, Pediatricians, OB-GYN’s, and Family Medicine Doctors.

  • Internal Medicine Doctors specialize in care for adults and are able to treat conditions of ranging complexities from early adulthood through old age, which is excellent for forming a trusting relationship over time.
  • Pediatricians have a narrow focus of childcare, which starts at birth and ranges through early adulthood. This is often the preferred choice by the parent of children as they are a specialist in developmental milestones.
  • OB-GYN’s which stands for “obstetrics and gynecology” are experts in the female reproductive system and women’s health as a whole. Most patients see OB-GYN’s for specific issues including pregnancy, birth control options, and menopause. They are rarely seen as a patients primary care physician.
  • Family Medicine Doctors are the preferred choice when looking for one primary care provider that is capable of treating your entire family, from babies and children to grandparents.

#9. Access to integrated medical specialists

Integrative healthcare options are increasing in popularity

Awesome! But what exactly is “integrated healthcare”?

Integrated healthcare is a model that combines aspects of more than one health professional such as: primary care, chiropractic, massage therapy, mental health, physical therapy, and nutritional consultations all under one roof. 

This model creates increased communication between any providers that you may see regardless of your health concerns, with the added bonus of operating out of the same office space.

If you are looking for a team of healthcare providers with vary specialties that will work together to tackle your health concerns and improve your quality of life, this is a key consideration. 

#10. Casual vs. formal

Integrative healthcare options are increasing in popularity

Awesome! But what exactly is “integrated healthcare”?

Integrated healthcare is a model that combines aspects of more than one health professional such as: primary care, chiropractic, massage therapy, mental health, physical therapy, and nutritional consultations all under one roof. 

This model creates increased communication between any providers that you may see regardless of your health concerns, with the added bonus of operating out of the same office space.

If you are looking for a team of healthcare providers with vary specialties that will work together to tackle your health concerns and improve your quality of life, this is a key consideration. 

#11. Choosing the right primare care physician

Once you have taken all of the above considerations, it is time to research what is available in your area and make a list of doctors that that potentially fit your needs. 

Call a few of the offices and talk with the front desk staff about average wait times, availability, and what areas their primary care physician specializes in to see who would be the best fit. 

Making an appointment and meeting them in person is the best way to get an overall idea of who they are, their specific style of care, and if they will be the best fit for you.

#12. The first appointment

During the first appointment it is crucial to ask questions that revolve around their quality and approach to patient care. If they seem rushed, cut off your questions, or have negative body language this is a sign that they may not be the right choice for you.

Questions to ask

  • Why did you become a PCP?
  • Do you have any board certifications? 
  • What do you prioritize when conducting an annual physical exam?
  • Do you offer routine screenings to prevent health issues from arising? 

 

The first primary care provider may not be the perfect fit, but do not let that discourage you from trying out others. Regardless of your experience, it is helpful to leave feedback about your experiences with office staff such as the practice manager, to let them know what you loved or areas that they can improve on.