8 Important Tips on How to Choose a Primary Care Doctor

Updated on January 23, 2020
medicine, healthcare and people concept – doctor talking to male patient at medical office in hospital

Wondering how to choose a primary care doctor?

Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans is still living without medical insurance? Some experts argue it’s because these Americans can’t afford it. Others argue that some portion of the population will always opt-out even with free insurance.

Still, others argue that the process to acquire the right insurance and primary care physician is simply too daunting a task. What about you? Do you fall into this last category?

If you do, we have good news for you. We can help you solve half your dilemma. The sections below give you all the resources you need to pick the perfect doctor.

You’ll still need to choose the right insurance. Fortunately, other articles on our site cover that dilemma. So, when you’re ready to arm yourself with the latest expert advice and find the ultimate primary care physician, read on.

1. How to Choose a Primary Care Doctor the Right Way

The trick to finding a primary care doctor is to first understand your needs. What is it you want from your doctor? Are you hunting for one who specializes in family medicine? Or perhaps you need a pediatrician for your child?

Whatever it is, write that down.

Now, what else? Do you have any pre-existing conditions? What about those long-term issues that you haven’t yet had diagnosed?

For instance, if you have spondylosis, write that down? If it’s lower back pain, write that down. Write down your back problem or other problems so you can find out more about your prospects’ experience in those fields when you vet them.

Would you prefer an experienced doctor or a driven greenhorn opening her first private practice? Consider other important attributes you want in your doctor. You’re going to use this list later.

2. Contact Your Insurance Agency

It’s common practice for both HMOs and PPOs to create a list of pre-approved physicians in your area. These doctors have already been vetted by your insurance company. All you need to do is find the one that best suits your needs and makes certain they’re taking new patients.

That’s the simplest route. Some insurance companies don’t carry a list of pre-approved physicians. They leave it to you to decide.

Other insurance agencies, leave room for you to choose a doctor who isn’t on their list. In either case, you can broaden your search. The steps below will help you continue to narrow your search parameters.

3. Pick Your Location

When you’re choosing a doctor or even a good skin care clinic, don’t forget the importance of geography. How long will it take you to drive to your doctor’s office?

Keep in mind that if you’re ill, a friend or family member might have to drive you. The further you are from your physician’s practice, the less likely someone will want to be your chauffeur.

Also, consider the office’s proximity to other medical facilities you might frequent:

  • Phlebotomists
  • X-ray technicians
  • Psychologists
  • Immunologists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Etc.

Fortunately, it’s common for doctors to set up their private practices close to other medical facilities. It dramatically reduces the time it takes patients to get tests and other medical procedures.

4. Ask Around

Your circle of family and friends may have a few recommendations, especially if you live in a small community. Even if you vet your candidates, you may miss a few unfortunate details that others have picked up on.

For instance, Mandarin might be your doctor’s first language. That might be important to you if you’ve recently moved from China and can barely speak passable English. On the other hand, it might make for a bad match if you’re a native English speaker and your doctor isn’t.

That’s just one of a thousand details that may impact your compatibility. Unfortunately, many of those details go unnoticed until you see your doctor face-to-face. Or, they would if you didn’t have a circle of friends who can share with you their first-hand experience.

5. Check Your Potential Candidates Job Histories

Weed out doctors who aren’t a good fit by reading their online biographies. Check out where they’ve worked and in what branch of medicine they specialize.

What type of doctor is she? An MD? DO?

What types of experience does she have? This is where your list of needs comes in handy. Cross-reference your needs with her background.

Don’t limit your searches to exact matches. All medical specializations have some crossover with similar branches.

Always make certain your doctors are board-certified physicians. This certification requires education beyond the minimum standard for any given medical specialty. In other words, those doctors really know their stuff!

6. Read Social Media Reviews

Like Wikipedia, social media reviews can be a great source of information. Also like Wikipedia, it’s important to take what you read with a hint of skepticism. There’s no certified board fact-checking these sources of information to ensure their validity.

Some of what you may read may be written by trolls, intended to disparage your doctor and hurt her credibility. In other cases, you may be reading a post from a patient who likes or dislikes your doctor for unfounded reasons.

Instead of trusting every review, look for patterns in the reviews. Do a quarter of the patients complain about the time they spend in the waiting room? Do half complain of your doctor’s halitosis?

7. Call and Ask Questions

By now, you have a ton of information about your candidates. It should only be a shortlist of 3 to 7 at this point. Now it’s time to answer any lingering questions about your doctor or her practice, such as the following:

  • Who do you contact in case of emergency?
  • Who do you see if your PCP is out of town?
  • How long will you have to wait for your first visit?
  • Are the receptionists helpful?
  • How long does it take for a doctor to return your call about a medical question?
  • Do they accept your spouse’s insurance too?

If you didn’t find your doctor’s biography online, ask the receptionist where you can get a hold of one. Remember, this is about your health. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

8. Give It a Trial Run

Well, it’s time to make your first appointment, but your job isn’t done yet. When you go in for your initial consultation, continue asking questions.

  • Can you open up to your doctor?
  • Does she leave you waiting for hours?
  • What’s her office like?
  • What about the other physicians and nurses?

If you decide it’s a good fit, then great. If not, don’t hesitate to check out the other doctors who made it to your shortlist. Good luck with your hunt.

What’s Next?

Now that you know how to choose a primary care doctor, it’s time to get started. Begin by asking your insurance for an approved list of primary care physicians in your area. Then it’s time to begin your research.

If you found these tips insightful, please come and peruse our vast library full of other medical articles. So long and good luck!

Throughout the year, our writers feature fresh, in-depth, and relevant information for our audience of 40,000+ healthcare leaders and professionals. As a healthcare business publication, we cover and cherish our relationship with the entire health care industry including administrators, nurses, physicians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and more. We cover a broad spectrum from hospitals to medical offices to outpatient services to eye surgery centers to university settings. We focus on rehabilitation, nursing homes, home care, hospice as well as men’s health, women’s heath, and pediatrics.