Finding a PCP: Tips for Choosing a New Primary Care Physician
Finding a PCP: Tips for Choosing a New Primary Care Physician
Finding a new primary care physician can feel like a daunting task. There may be dozens of options, but how do you find someone who listens, understands and makes you feel comfortable?
It's a relationship that matters because this is the person you'll trust with your health, from the sniffles to much more serious and confidential concerns. That means you should focus on finding a PCP with the right blend of experience, empathy, and communication skills.
So, where do you even start? In this article, we’ll share some key tips on navigating the process and choosing a new primary care physician who meets your individual and family health needs.
What does a primary care physician do?
A primary care physician (PCP) is a general practitioner who is typically your first point of contact for medical concerns, acting as the central hub for managing your health. They perform various duties, including the following:
Preventive care: This includes routine check-ups, health-risk assessments, immunizations, and screening tests.
Diagnosis and treatment: If you have a health problem, your PCP will diagnose it and manage most of your healthcare needs.
Education and counseling: Your PCP can educate you about your health, recommend preventive services, help you understand your condition, and provide counseling about the decisions that affect your health.
Coordination of care: Your PCP will manage and coordinate with outside specialists or facilities if more complex care is required.
Monitoring: Your PCP tracks any changes in your health over time, helping to identify and treat issues before they become more serious.
How to choose a new primary care physician
Here are some practical steps to guide you in selecting a healthcare partner who aligns with your needs.
Consider what type of PCP suits you best
Choosing the right type of PCP is essential for receiving personalized and effective healthcare. Let's explore different options and factors to consider when determining which PCP suits you best.
MD or DO?
An MD (Medical Doctor) and a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine) undergo rigorous training and are licensed to practice medicine. However, DOs receive additional training in osteopathic medicine, which focuses on manual manipulation of joints and limbs (similar to physical therapy).
This is a philosophy that emphasizes a more holistic view of medicine. That means if you prefer a more holistic and hands-on approach to healthcare, a DO is a suitable choice for you.
Internist vs family medicine vs GP
Internists, family medicine physicians, and general practitioners (GPs) each have their own areas of expertise. Internists specialize in adult healthcare and are well-equipped to manage complex medical conditions. Family medicine physicians care for patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly, emphasizing comprehensive and continuous care for the whole family.
GPs offer general medical care but may not have specific training in a particular area. Consider your age, medical history, and whether you prefer a provider who can address the healthcare needs of your entire family when making your decision.
OB-GYN or other specialists as your PCP
Choosing an OB-GYN or another specialist as your PCP can be suitable if you have specialized healthcare needs or prefer a provider with expertise in a specific area. However, you should ensure that the specialist you choose is willing to provide comprehensive primary care beyond their specialty, as not all specialists may offer this level of care.
PA as a primary care provider
You can choose a physician assistant (PA) as your primary care provider. However, keep in mind that PAs work under the guidance of a supervising physician.
PAs can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, and provide preventive care. They can offer personalized attention and work closely with their supervising physicians to deliver comprehensive care.
Virtual Primary Care
Data shows that 86% of healthcare consumers have used telemedicine at least once. It’s no surprise, given that it’s a convenient option for many individuals.
Virtual PCPs conduct appointments via telemedicine, allowing you to consult with a healthcare provider remotely. This option can be particularly beneficial if you have limited mobility or live in remote areas.
Get recommendations and referrals
When it's time to pick a new primary care physician, one tried-and-true method is leveraging the power of recommendations and referrals. Here’s where to look for the recommendations:
Friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors
People you trust, like your friends and family, can be an incredible resource in the quest for a new PCP. Got a coworker who can't stop raving about their doctor's attentive bedside manner? Or perhaps your neighbor praises their physician's thoroughness?
If you are moving to a new area, you can also ask your current doctor for recommendations.
Using online professional directories and reviews
Websites such as Healthgrades or Zocdoc offer directories filled with healthcare professionals, often accompanied by reviews from other patients. Use these platforms to check out potential PCPs. Consider the PCP’s ratings and what people say about their professionalism, punctuality, communication style, and ability to speak different languages.
Identify doctors in-network with your insurer
Another crucial step in finding your new PCP is checking whether they are in-network with your health insurer. If a doctor is in-network, your insurer has a special rate agreed upon with them, and you pay less out-of-pocket. So, start by checking your insurer's directory or calling them to find out who's in-network.
What if you don’t have insurance?
If you don't have insurance, you're not out of options. Some clinics and healthcare centers offer sliding scale fees based on your income, so that might be a good place to start.
Another option is free or low-cost clinics, often run by charities, foundations, or the government. Some doctors and clinics offer payment plans.
Consider location and hours
Logistics are crucial because your perfect PCP isn't so perfect if their clinic is hard to get to or if they're only open when you're at work. Here are some points to consider:
Convenience: You’ll want a doctor whose office is easy to get to from your home or work.
Hours: Do their office hours fit with your schedule? Do they offer early morning, late evening, or weekend appointments.
Languages spoken: If English isn't your first language or you're more comfortable speaking another language, do they or their staff speak your preferred language?
Hospital affiliation: If you ever need hospital care, your doctor will likely admit you to their affiliated hospital. So it's a good idea to check if that hospital is also in-network with your insurance and has a good reputation.
Availability: Ensure the doctor is accepting new patients.
Schedule an initial consultation
So you've done your homework and have a potential PCP in your sights. Now it's time for the initial consultation. This visit allows you to see if they're a good fit for you and your family.
Questions to ask
Here are some questions you might want to ask during your visit:
What's your approach to healthcare? Preventative? Holistic? Condition-focused?
Can you tell me about your level of experience?
How do you handle after-hours situations? Is there a nurse or doctor on call?
Can I reach you electronically for non-urgent matters?
How long does it usually take to get an appointment?
What are your views on alternative or complementary medicine?
What's their policy on follow-up and communication?
Don’t forget to ask about their experience treating children if you have kids or plan to have them.
What to look for
As for what to look for, pay attention to the following:
How they interact with you. Do they listen and make you feel comfortable?
How they answer your questions. Are they patient and thorough, or do they rush you?
The office environment. Is it clean, organized, and efficient?
The staff. Are they friendly and professional?
Accessibility. Do they use electronic health records or offer telemedicine services?
Remember, you're not just choosing a doctor but an entire healthcare team. You should feel comfortable and confident in their care.
Finding the right primary care physician is the first step to forging a health-focused partnership that will serve you and your family in the long run. It's a journey that involves a little bit of research and lots of personal consideration. With the above tips, you can find a healthcare partner who's there for you and your family through every sniffle, check-up, and health concern.
At Juno, we have PCPs dedicated to providing a modern medical experience tailored to every member of your family. Our providers take time to get to know you to ensure they provide personalized care. Schedule an appointment and become part of a healthcare family that truly cares about your well-being.
What is the difference between a doctor and a primary care physician?
A doctor is a broad term that refers to any professional with a degree in medicine. A primary care physician (PCP) is a generalist doctor who serves as the first point of contact for patients, providing preventative care, treating a wide range of health issues, and referring patients to specialists if needed.
Why do people have a primary care physician?
People have a primary care physician to manage their overall health. Your PCP handles preventative care, diagnoses, and treats common illnesses. A PCP can also help coordinate care with specialists if needed, providing continuity and a personalized approach to health care.
How do I find a good doctor in my area?
Start by asking friends and family for recommendations, and then check online directories and reviews. Ensure you verify whether the doctor is in-network with your insurance and consider factors like location, office hours, and languages spoken.