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Choosing a Primary Care Physician

Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2017
A good primary care physician (PCP) can be the determining factor in recovering from illness or injury or preventing disease.  If you select and astute doctor who pays close attention, asks the right questions, and knows which tests to run and specialists to send you to you will save money, get back on your feet sooner, and can be confident in your healthcare. 
A good primary care physician (PCP) can be the determining factor in recovering from illness or injury or preventing disease.  If you select and astute doctor who pays close attention, asks the right questions, and knows which tests to run and specialists to send you to you will save money, get back on your feet sooner, and can be confident in your healthcare. With complicated insurance plans, increasing chronic diseases, and so many doctors to choose from, how do you select the person who will play such a major role in your health?

Consider your insurance plan

Most health maintenance organization plans (HMOs) require you to pick a PCP.  In this system, your PCP is the first person you will see for any condition and will determine whether you should be referred to a specialist (i.e. orthopedist, allergist, gastroenterologist).  In other insurance plans, Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans , POS (Point of Service) plans, or EPO (Exclusive Provider Organization), you are not always required to designate a PCP, but it is a good idea to be established at a doctor’s office so you are ready to go when any unexpected health issues arise.  It’s also beneficial, in this case, to have one person with all of your history and records. Most insurance plan websites now offer tools where you can search for providers covered by your plan.  If you are wondering whether a doctor you find on your own is covered, call the office ahead of time.  Call the office now, not when you are already sick, and make sure the doctor you choose is taking new patients.

Consider your personal needs

Choosing a doctor is a very personal decision. You have to trust this person with your health, be able to ask them very intimate questions, and be comfortable with their assessments. Think about if you have a preference for a certain age or gender.  Many PCPs also have specialties in other areas. If you have a chronic condition, look for a PCP with expertise in that area. It will save you and your doctor a lot of guesswork later. 

Read the ratings and listen to friends

Approximately 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed each year, nearly 1 in 20 adult patients. Medical misdiagnoses can prolong recovery and in nearly half of the cases cause serious harm to health.  The most common causes are failure of doctors to order the correct diagnostic tests, failure of patients to fully explain all issues to the doctor, and doctor misinterpretation of test results. Consider using online rating sites to see patient reviews of potential doctors. Keep in mind though, that link any consumer review site, these are opinions and those with negative experiences may be more likely to write a review. Word of mouth and personal patient experiences can be very helpful in selecting your doctor. Especially when coming from people you know and trust. Ask your coworkers and community members.

There is no one-size-fits-all option for selecting a PCP. It’s a personal decision. It’s most important that you can establish a good relationship and be open and honest with your doctor.  Find one who listens and explains well. Take time to do your research so you can feel confident that you are in good hands.