How to Choose Your Primary Care Physician

How to Choose Your Primary Care Physician

Whether you’ve just moved to a new area or your doctor is retiring, you must make the important decision of choosing a new primary care physician. You may be tempted to call up the closest doctor’s office, make an appointment, and get it over with. Don’t make this mistake. Choosing the right primary care physician (PCP) is a decision you want to make carefully. If you need referrals to specialists, immunizations, preventative care, or someone to look at that weird rash, your PCP is the first person you'll call. Your PCP is your healthcare quarterback, your first line of defense, and choosing the right one for your needs is essential in optimizing your health.

How to Begin Your Search for a New Doctor

When you start your search for a new primary care physician, ask your friends, neighbors, or coworkers for recommendations. If your longtime doctor is retiring, schedule one last visit and request a referral to another nearby primary physician. But even when someone highly recommends a doctor, you shouldn't rush to make an appointment without thinking twice. Be sure to ask specific questions that may affect your decision and do plenty of independent research online before scheduling an appointment. 

Utilize internet physician finders and doctor review sites, too. It's important to research as much as possible about potential new physicians. You can do more digging to find out whether a doctor has been sued for malpractice, but beware that even perfectly good doctors have lawsuits brought against them sometimes. However, multiple malpractice claims are cause for concern. 

When you're in the process of choosing a new primary care physician, there are plenty of important factors to consider. Think about your personal healthcare needs, your family circumstances, and general preferences regarding your medical care, so you can make sure your new doctor will be a good match. Here are eight questions you can ask yourself to help guide you through the research process for choosing a new doctor. 

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Physician

1. Do you need a specialized type of primary care?

A primary care physician is adept at treating most common medical conditions and will refer patients to specialists for treatment of more complicated diagnoses. However, if you have been diagnosed with a particular disease, you may want to seek a PCP with a specialty in your area of healthcare needs. For example, if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), you could choose a PCP with special cardiology qualifications. Such a doctor will be more knowledgeable about your condition and likely have close relationships with cardiologists in the area that he can refer you to, allowing him to keep close tabs on your healthcare from multiple angles. 

Depending on your age, you may want to see a geriatrician, a physician specializing in elder care. If you are also seeking a physician for your child, you could choose a family medicine physician who will provide care to everyone in your family, or you might select a PCP whose office is in the same medical facility as a good pediatrician for your child.

2. When and how often do you need to make doctor's appointments?

Do you anticipate just seeing your PCP for your yearly physical? Will you need regular check-ups for chronic health issues such as hypertension (high blood pressure) or diabetes? The frequency in which you anticipate seeing your PCP will help determine how close you want to be to their office and what type of accessibility you would like to have. Find out what the hours are; if you typically require evening or weekend appointments, be sure your chosen new practice can accommodate your scheduling needs.

3. How far do you want to drive to see your new physician?

It would be ideal if the best PCP lived a quick walk away, but, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Having your PCP right down the street is very convenient if you see him very often and do not want to drive long distances. However, it may be worth it to travel a bit further to see a PCP you connect better with or has some other features that you desire such as greater accessibility or a certain specialty.

4. How accessible do you want your new physician to be?

The ability to have quick access to your physician can be critical. How long is acceptable for you to wait to get an appointment – days, weeks, months? Does the physician's office typically have same-day appointments for urgent care? Do you always want to see your primary physician or are you alright with seeing a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant in the practice? Are you comfortable with medical students? Learn whether the practice is connected to a teaching hospital; if so, there may be interns or medical residents who assist with your care.

 If it's important that you see your actual doctor when you are having a surprise health issue, you will need to research in the reviews or call up the office to find out whether this particular doctor and the staff are always easily accessible for patients. 

5. Is the doctor's timeliness important to you?

Is your physician usually on time or running late? When they are late, how long are you waiting? While it’s not always a physician’s fault when they’re running late (emergencies do happen in medicine), if your doctor is always running late, it can become such an inconvenience that may make you want to choose another PCP.

6. Do you have a preference for specific services provided by the doctor's office?

Having a helpful and accommodating office staff can improve your healthcare experience. If making appointments and coordinating follow-up visits into your busy schedule is simple, it will save you time and headache. Find out if and how they typically remind patients about scheduled appointments — do you prefer calls, emails or letters to ensure you never miss an appointment. Sometimes you may need to ask your physician a question over the phone or leave him a message. It's nice when the office staff reliably arranges for the prompt return of your calls and makes it easy for you to contact the doctor or nurses. Learn their cancellation and tardiness policy — will your appointment need to be rescheduled altogether or pushed back if you arrive 10 minutes late? You should also ask about their confidentiality policy and what steps they take to ensure patients’ privacy. You can research about how the practice operates in these ways by looking online or asking the staff as well as anyone you know who is a patient at the practice. 

7. Are complementary and alternative medicines important to you?

Some physicians may be open to or even encourage using alternatives such as acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, biofeedback, and herbal medicines while others may not believe in them. Choosing a physician who you share similar beliefs with about alternative medicine may be beneficial for you.

8. Does the doctor's demographic matter to you?

Are you more comfortable with a physician who is the same gender as you? Do you want a physician of similar age as you, or someone younger or older? A certain culture or language abilities may also be relevant for you. Factors such as these can help filter the list of PCPs you are considering.

After considering these various questions, you will likely have a good idea about what type of PCP you are seeking. However, the best way to make your decision is to meet your prospective PCP in-person, and determine whether there is a comfortable and trusting connection.

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