Choosing a primary care practitioner (PCP) is a critical decision, but can be a difficult one. Where to begin?
Many health plans require a primary care practitioner, and even if yours doesn’t, you may prefer to have a PCP who knows you to help guide your treatment.
The first step in looking for a primary care practitioner is to decide what you want from your doctor. There are many traits to consider when choosing a PCP, and people value those traits differently. Your own priorities may change over time. Some factors that people often consider important include:
- Quality ratings, often done by consumer groups
- Type of physician
- Level of experience with your condition(s)
- Whether the PCP is in your network, and whether he or she is permitted to practice at a hospital of your choice
- Communication style/personality
- Office hours
- Board certification
How do you go about finding doctors who potentially fit your needs? There are many resources available. A good place to start is with other health care professionals. If you have an established relationship with other doctors or nurses, you can ask them for their recommendations. You may also turn to family, friends, or others you trust to see if they have information–positive or negative–that can help you with your search. You also could try a doctor referral service at a hospital.
Once you have a list of potential candidates, it’s a good idea to do a little research. The American Medical Association, Consumer Reports, and Healthgrades are among several good sources to learn about your doctor’s background and training, get feedback from patients, and spot any red flags in his or her background, such as malpractice suits.
Once you’ve chosen a primary care practitioner, you still will need to determine if he or she is the right one for you. A list of questions you may want to ask before or at your first appointment:
- Who covers for the doctor when he or she is not available?
- Will other physicians or non-physicians assist in your care?
- How does your doctor view the doctor-patient relationship?
- Will he or she provide care for other members of your family?
- Which hospitals can the doctor admit patients to?
Some things you won’t be able to judge until you actually meet your doctor. Personality matters. A doctor with expert qualifications may not be a good fit if you’re not comfortable with his or her approach. Consider whether the doctor listens to your questions and answers them fully, as well as whether he or she makes you feel at ease.
Choosing a primary care practitioner can be tricky, but finding the right one can make all the difference in your health care–and your health.