Choosing a PCP: It’s a Big Decision

Primary Care PhysicianChoosing a primary care provider is a very important personal decision, and a number of factors should be considered to make sure you are selecting a healthcare professional with whom you can form a long-term relationship.

A primary care provider, or PCP for short, works with you to maintain your overall health by focusing on wellness and the optimum management of your chronic conditions to avoid future problems. And while your PCP is your health care hub, he or she can also help you with selection of and referral to a specialist should your condition warrant the additional expertise. While specialists focuse on their area of expertise, your PCP maintains a holistic perspective. In that way, your PCP will work with your specialist, or specialists, to guide you through your treatment course and provide high-level oversight of treatments, medications, therapies and recommendations to ensure your care is as coordinated as possible.

Here are a few tips to help you choose the right PCP for you:

  • Ask Around – Talk to friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers about their providers. Also consider asking other healthcare professionals for their opinions. Many hospitals also offer referral services, and professional sites, like the state licensure boards, or certification boards (e.g. American Board of Medical Spectialties), confirm whether or not a doctor is Board certified or has any special qualifications you may require.
  • Consider The Details – Once you’ve got a list of potential providers, winnow it down by asking yourself some practical questions:
    • Do I prefer a male or female doctor?
    • Is the doctor in my age bracket? Will I be able to relate to him/her?
    • Where is the office located? Do I need a doctor close to home or the office?
    • What hours of the day is the office open and will those hours be convenient for me?
    • Is the office staff courteous and efficient?
    • Does the office use an electronic medical record and are they able to access your results electronically from the hospital, lab, or other providers.
    • If you are interested, does the PCP offer online and nontraditional options for communication and alternatives to face-to-face visits?
    • If I need to be admitted to the hospital, which hospital would I prefer? Does the doctor normally refer patients there?
    • Does this doctor accept my insurance? If not, am I willing to pay out of pocket ?
  • Board Certification – While there are several online lists and rankings of providers, very few have objective assessments of the provider’s clinical performance. However, while imperfect, Board Certification, does indicate that the provider has met some minimum requirements. It is important to recognize that many fine clinicians have not earned board certification for very appropriate reasons.
  • Board certified physicians have:
    • Earned their degrees from a qualified medical school
    • Completed three to seven years of accredited residency training
    • Are licensed by a state medical board
    • Have passed one or more exams administered by the ABMS
    • Career-long continuing education requirements they must meet to certification
  • In-person Interviews – Once you’ve decided which doctor looks best on paper, take the next step and interview him or her at his or her practice. Most doctors encourage this, although some may charge a small fee for their time.
  • During the visit, be aware of your total experience, including:
    • How easy – or difficult – was it to make the appointment.
    • Consider the way you are greeted by staff members when you arrive
    • Notice the length of time you spend waiting after you check in.
  • When interviewing the doctors
    • Feel free to ask tough questions.
    • Make sure you feel comfortable with his/her responses and that you are both on the same page when it comes to medications, treatments for chronic issues, and other factors important to you.
    • Consider the PCP’s bedside manner. If your personalities don’t align it will be hard to build trust.
  • Review Your Choice – Following the interview, carefully review the experience. If you weren’t happy with the outcome, continue your search. However, if all went well and the provider met your expectations, then it’s time to start building this very important relationship. You will rely on it for years to come.

About Dr. Gitomer

Richard Gitomer, MDRichard Gitomer, MD, is the President and Chief Quality Officer of the Emory Healthcare Network. Dr. Gitomer has been practicing internal medicine for more than 30 years at Emory.

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