Five Things to Consider When Choosing an Adult Primary Care Provider
Regardless of whether you have recently moved to a new area, outgrown your family pediatrician or simply want to make a change and see a new health care provider, choosing an adult primary care provider can feel overwhelming. It’s easy to say “I’m healthy, I can wait to choose a new provider,” but waiting until you get sick and need to see someone is never a good idea – especially during the height of cold and flu season.
As you start your primary care provider (PCP) search, here are five things to keep in mind:
- The provider: PCPs commonly fall into two categories, internal medicine and family medicine. A PCP practicing family medicine treats a wide range of medical problems across all ages and can treat patients throughout their entire lifetime. In fact, family medicine practitioners often treat many generations in one family. A PCP practicing internal medicine, commonly known as an internist, can also treat a wide range of medical problems but only see adult patients. Some PCPs have a special interest, like weight management, women’s health or geriatric care, and can provide additional health care services to some patients. You should also consider whether you would be more comfortable seeing a male or female provider.
- Convenience: In today’s busy world, most of us are juggling daily work, family and social commitments so it’s important to choose a PCP whose office is located near your home or work and offers convenient hours. A PCP that offers night and weekend appointments plus on-line access is ideal. If you don’t have a car, you will want to choose a PCP located near public transportation or has access through The Ride. You might also check to see if the office has an on-site lab and radiology – this will save you a trip to another location for testing.
- Team-based care: When you choose a PCP you also choose a group of people that will be involved with your health care, including nurses, lab technicians, administrative staff and other physicians. You want to ensure that your PCP takes a team-based approach and works collaboratively and effectively with their staff and other health care providers to give you the highest quality of care. You will want to know what hospital your PCP sends patients to and be comfortable with that choice before getting sick.
- Insurance: The vast majority of insurance companies contract with specific health care providers and hospitals for care to ensure that their customers have fewer out-of-pocket expenses. These providers and hospitals are referred to as “In-Network” providers. If you choose a PCP outside of your network, your insurance company could decline to cover the costs, so be sure to check with your insurance company before making an appointment.
- Online access: A PCP that offers secure online access to your health care information via a patient portal is a big plus. You can use your PCP’s patient portal to view your medical records, check lab results, schedule appointments, send messages to your PCP or their staff, view/pay bills and more.
Once you find a few PCPs that may be a fit, you can reach out to their office to see if the provider is accepting new patients, ask questions about their practice and discuss your health care needs. If an on-line video is available, this may help to gain insights into the provider’s personality and style a written description cannot. If you don’t feel that a provider or practice is the right fit for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to say so and continue your search. Your PCP is an integral part of your health care, and it’s important that you are comfortable with the level of care that they can provide.
Dr. David Halle is a primary care provider at South Shore Medical Center, part of South Shore Health's Primary Care Division.