How to Choose a Primary Care Provider
By Raema Mir, MD, Family Medicine Physician—Virtua Primary Care – Marlton
Most of us know that having a primary care provider (PCP) is good for our health. But not everyone is aware of how important it is to choose the right one. The better your relationship is with your PCP, the more likely it is that he or she will understand your concerns and be able to treat you more appropriately. Today, having a PCP you can rely on may be more important than ever.
Here’s what you need to know about choosing a PCP who's right for you.
What is a PCP?
A PCP serves as your main healthcare provider, playing an important role in treating everyday health problems and chronic conditions as well as connecting you with the preventative care you need and helping you navigate the healthcare system. PCPs may be doctors, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners, all specially trained in primary care. There are several different types of PCPs who treat different people, including:
- Family practitioners. Family practitioners treat children and adults and may offer services such as routine gynecological exams or perform minor in-office surgery.
- Pediatricians. Pediatricians treat children, usually up to age 18. Some pediatricians also see young adults who are college-age.
- Geriatricians. Geriatricians treat older adults who have complex medical needs, such as multiple chronic health conditions and medications.
- Internists. Internists typically treat adults for a variety of medical problems.
What does a PCP do, and why is it important?
Although part of your PCP’s job is to treat everyday injuries and illnesses, that’s only one of the many ways that your PCP can help you.
One of the first things your PCP will do is work with you to help you achieve your wellness goals and optimize your health. For most people, this includes preventing and managing health conditions and coordinating care with other medical specialists.
Your PCP will provide basic care and, if necessary, will refer you to specialists to treat more complex problems. Having a PCP may also help you keep your healthcare costs low. In many cases, insurance co-pays for primary care are lower than co-pays for specialty care. Your PCP also may help you avoid unnecessary specialist visits and may be able to recommend less-expensive medication alternatives.
Your PCP will perform routine physical exams, make sure you are getting recommended preventative health screenings and vaccinations, and keep your medication list up to date.
Patient education is also a large part of a PCP’s job. Your PCP will take the time to answer your health questions and make sure you understand your condition and treatment plan. Your PCP also will recommend lifestyle changes to help you improve your health—and provide support and information to help you act on the recommendations.
How do I choose the right PCP?
Having a trusting, long-term relationship with your PCP can have a positive effect on your overall health and wellness. That’s why it’s important to choose a PCP who can not only meet your healthcare needs, but who makes you feel comfortable and views you as a partner.
One of the first things you should look at when choosing a PCP is whether he or she participates with your insurance. You should also decide what type of provider (family practitioner, pediatrician, etc.) would best meet your or your family’s healthcare needs.
After you narrow down your options, call the provider’s office and speak with a member of the office staff. Although you may be able to find information about the provider online, the office staff can answer many of your questions about the provider, including:
- Medical services. If you have a specific health condition, find out if the provider has experience treating the condition and provides related services.
- Office hours. Ask about the provider’s work hours and how your needs will be met if your provider is out of the office. Also, find out if your provider offers evening/weekend hours, same-day appointments, and after-hours services.
- Telehealth visits. An virtual video visit is appropriate for certain conditions, check-ins, or consultations. It's important to choose a primary care practice that has a formal telehealth program so you have that option.
- Office policies. Ask questions about office policies that may be relevant to you, such as how to get prescription refills, how to get medical forms completed, how referrals are handled, and how insurance is billed.
- Communication and availability. Find out how easy it is to reach your provider. Can he or she be reached via email or through your personal health record? Is his or her communication style friendly and warm, or more formal?
After your questions are answered, and you think a provider might be a good fit for you, it’s time to schedule an appointment. Although a dedicated “meet-and-greet” appointment may be helpful if you have more complex health needs or other concerns, scheduling an annual physical exam is often the most efficient way for you and your provider to get to know each other.
During your first appointment, your provider will ask questions about your lifestyle and health history. You can use this opportunity to ask questions or share any other concerns that you may have, which should help you decide whether the provider is a good fit for your needs.
By doing research and asking questions, you’re taking an important step toward developing a relationship with your PCP that will provide health benefits for years to come.
To find a PCP who can help you achieve health and wellness goals, call 888-847-8823.
Updated March 12, 2021