Selecting a Primary Care Physician
Your primary care physician is the cornerstone of your healthcare. A good physician will get to know you and your family over time, identify the beginnings of changes in your health and also help you choose the right healthcare specialists. Unlike specialists however, primary care providers are typically committed to your long-term healthcare needs. Because your relationship with your primary care physician will be ongoing, it is important to carefully choose a provider that will meet your needs.
The insurance you have (or don't have) is a major factor in selecting a healthcare provider. Because the Affordable Care Act requires new health insurance policies to cover preventive care services at no cost to the policyholder, it is important that you choose a provider that is in your network of contracted healthcare providers if possible.
Your insurance company can give you a list of primary physicians in your area, but make sure to call the physician's office to ensure it is still contracted with your insurance company. If you do not have health insurance, ask the physician if in-house financing is available or if discounts are available for uninsured patients. However, try to find health insurance for you and your family as soon as possible to help alleviate your out-of-pocket cost burden and ensure you have access to the care you need in the future.
Not all general practitioners offer the same services. For example, primary care physicians that specialize in internal medicine typically only treat adults. You would not want to select an internist if you are in search of care for your entire family. On the other hand, if you are in search of a doctor to specifically treat the healthcare needs of your children, look to a pediatrician, rather than a general family practice, as pediatricians only see and treat children under age 18.
Ask for Recommendations
Preferably, your physician should be established with a positive reputation among your peers. Ask for recommendations from family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. If the general consensus is that the doctor you are considering has poor bedside manner or is difficult to see, you may want to consider choosing a different doctor.
Visit the Office
A lot can be determined by a simple office visit. For example, when you arrive, pay attention to how well the exterior of the office is maintained, as well as the inside waiting area. Once inside, pay attention to how crowded the waiting room is, as this could signal long wait times. Furthermore, is the office staff friendly? Do they seem organized?
If you have a busy schedule, it is important that appointments with your primary physician fit your lifestyle. Start by calling the office to find out whether someone answers the phone immediately or you receive a voicemail greeting. If you must leave a message, track how long it takes the office to return your phone call. Furthermore, ask the staff what days the doctor sees patients for wellcare and sick visits, as well as how long patients typically wait to be seen after making an appointment.