We all know how important it is to choose the right doctor. Choosing the right primary care physician (PCP) is especially important because it will be a person that will oversee the health and wellness of you and your family for the long-term. A primary care physician will be your main healthcare provider for your most common medical problems, but should also be looking out for your overall health, recommending screenings, making referrals, encouraging healthy habits and much more.

What is a PCP?

In the past, many referred to their PCP as their “family doctor.” It’s true that Family Practice or General Practice doctors are often chosen as a PCP. However, a doctor of Internal Medicine or Pediatrics can also be designated as a PCP. What’s important is that you develop a trusting, ongoing relationship with a healthcare provider that can meet your general medical needs and who can steer you to specialists or other medical resources when needed.

Finding a PCP

If you don’t currently have a designated PCP, there are many ways you can find the right doctor or healthcare provider for you. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Search your health plan network. Look up providers in your health plan’s network. Because you will likely see your PCP often, using a doctor within your plan’s network will save you money. Plus, it may be easier to locate somebody close by.
  • Get referrals. Talk to friends, neighbors and relatives and see if they can refer you to a quality doctor. Nothing is more reliable than the experiences of people just like you.
  • Talk to other healthcare professionals. Talk to your dentist, pharmacist, optometrist and other professionals and see if they can recommend a PCP candidate. Chances are they’ll be close by, too.

Checking on Quality

Some physicians are “board certified”. This means that they have completed training in a specialty and passed an exam that assesses their knowledge and skill in a particular area,,such as diabetes. You can find information about individual physician’s board certification, training or specialties at the following websites:

Contact the Offices

Once you’ve narrowed down your list to a handful of PCP candidates, it’s time to contact their offices. Make a list of the questions that are important to you. Here are some questions you may want to ask the office staff:

  • Is the doctor accepting new patients?
  • If you needed to be admitted to a hospital, what hospitals does the doctor use?
  • Would your doctor take care of you in the hospital?
  • What are the office hours (when you can see the doctor and speak to office staff)?
  • Can you contact the doctor by email?
  • Which doctors cover for the doctor if he or she is not available?
  • How long does it take to get a routine appointment?
  • Does the office give medical advice over the phone?

Schedule an Appointment

Make a new patient/initial visit appointment with your top choice. Be aware that this will be considered a medical appointment and will be billed to your insurance. You can learn a lot about the doctor by the way he or she talks with you. Following the appointment, ask yourself:

  • Did the doctor listen to me, ask questions and answer my questions?
  • Did the doctor show respect for me? Did I feel comfortable?
  • Did the doctor address the medical problem I came with?

Based on your homework and your appointment, hopefully you’ve found a provider you feel you can trust and who can meet the general medical needs of you and your family.