Whether you moved to a new city, changed insurance plans or just haven’t gotten around to finding a primary care doctor, it’s important to spend time finding someone you can trust. A primary care physician can be more than just a doctor — it may be one of the most important relationships you have when it comes to your health and well-being.
Utilizing a primary care doctor may help you live a longer, healthier life. They will address your regular medical needs, like preventive screenings, annual physicals, mental health issues or non-emergency concerns, as well as refer you to a medical specialist for more specific health concerns. Research shows that patients with consistent access to the same doctor is associated with lower mortality rates and overall health care costs.
This relationship is likely to be long-term, so it’s important you choose someone who is in-network and who you are comfortable having open conversations with about your health.
Here are five tips to help you choose the best primary care doctor for you:
1. Determine what you want in a doctor
What qualities matter to you? Make a list of your preferences, like gender, race, languages spoken, office hours or care setting. There are several different types of primary care doctors, so make sure you find one with expertise that fits your needs. You may choose a different primary care doctor for each member of your family, including:
- Family or general practitioners are trained in many medical areas during their residency – pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, psychiatry and neurology, surgery and community medicine – so they are able to care for patients of all genders and ages.
- Internal medicine physicians, also known as internists, are trained to solve diagnostic problems. They specialize in prevention, diagnosis and disease management for adults across a wide range of complex health issues.
- OB/GYN (obstetrics/gynecology) specialize in women’s health, including pregnancy and childbirth. Their deep knowledge of the reproductive system helps them better care for their female patients.
- Pediatricians care for the physical, mental and social health of children. They usually care for the same children from birth to young adulthood, in order to monitor their development.
- Geriatricians focus on health care for older adults, specifically those with complicated medical and social problems.
2. Check your insurance
Find a list of doctors and hospitals that are considered in-network for your insurance plan. Health plans have discounted rates with certain doctors, so staying in-network may help you pay less out of pocket. Search for a provider directory on your insurance provider’s website or call the number on the back of your member ID card to speak with a representative that can help point you in the right direction. If you’re a UnitedHealthcare plan member, use this tool to find a provider.
3. Ask for recommendations
Consider asking family or friends if they’ve had good experiences with their primary care doctor. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so just because a doctor was perfect for your neighbor or best friend doesn’t mean that he or she is right for you.
4. Do your research
Try using credited resources like the American Medical Association’s Doctor Finder website and the American Board of Medical Specialties’ Certification Matters database to research a doctor’s education, certification and performance history.
Once you’ve found a few good candidates, call their office to talk with their staff. They can help answer any questions you may have, including after-hour health concerns, cancelation policies or who covers for that doctor when they are not available.
5. Visit doctors
Once you’ve narrowed down your top candidate, consider scheduling a meeting — or a virtual appointment — with the doctor to go over your medical history and discuss your health concerns. This will also give you a chance to ask questions and determine your comfort level with him or her. Trust your gut – if things felt off, you may want to keep looking. But if you felt the doctor listened carefully to you, let you ask questions, spent enough time with you and ultimately made you feel comfortable, you may have met your match.