How to Choose the Right Primary Doctor For You

Having a primary care physician (PCP) doesn’t just make managing your health easier — it can actually help improve it. People with a primary doctor typically have better access to health care, receive higher-quality care and have better health care experiences. However, you also need to see your doctor regularly if you want those benefits.

Finding a good doctor makes it easier to keep up with regular appointments. You can get a head start with these tips for how to get a primary care doctor that meets your needs.

8 Tips for Choosing a Primary Care Doctor

Whatever your reason for needing a new doctor, figuring out where to start can feel overwhelming. That’s why we’ve created this guide to choosing a PCP to help you navigate the process!

1. Make a List of Your Needs

It’s crucial to start out knowing what you need from a doctor. Some needs will be health-based, while others will focus on ensuring you’re comfortable with your provider. Sit down and brainstorm a list of your needs in different areas, such as:

  • Major health concerns: Do you have any chronic health conditions? Are you seeking a new diagnosis in any areas?
  • Age: Do you have specific needs due to your age?
  • Gender: Will you be more comfortable if your physician is a particular gender? Do you need a doctor who welcomes patients of marginalized genders?
  • Language: What languages will you need your doctor to speak?

2. Know What Kind of Doctor You Want

You have several options for your primary care doctor, depending on the kind of care you’re looking for. Some of your options include:

  • Family practitioners: Doctors with this title provide care for patients from infants to older adults.
  • Internists: These doctors specialize in internal medicine and are one of the most common PCPs.
  • Geriatricians: A geriatrician treats older adults and specializes in treating chronic age-related medical conditions. Geriatricians often act as specialists. However, you may want to consider one for your PCP if you’re over 65 and have memory trouble, multiple medications or decreased mobility.
  • Pediatricians: Pediatric doctors provide primary care for children from birth to age 18.
  • Gynecologists: A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in sexual health and internal reproductive organs. While gynecologists are specialists, they are qualified to act as your PCP.

When you know the type of doctor you’re looking for, you can use the American Medical Association’s DoctorFinder site to find physicians with that specialty near you.

3. Ask for Referrals and Recommendations

You can learn a lot about a doctor from their official information, such as their specialties, education and certifications and even what insurance they accept. What you probably won’t find is a patient’s perspective.

Finding the right doctor for you is about more than choosing who looks best on paper. In addition to reviewing credentials, you can get a more well-rounded picture from:

  • Referrals from health care workers: Consider asking another health care professional if they can recommend a primary care doctor. You probably have more opportunities than you think! Your dentist, pharmacist or even the nurse at the urgent care clinic might be able to suggest someone who fits your needs.
  • Recommendations from friends and family: Ask your family and friends if they have a doctor that they’d recommend. If they do, ask what they like about them and what they don’t. Try to get a picture of an average visit to help determine if their recommendation sounds like a good fit.
  • Patient forums: Look for review sites and message boards to find opinions from recent or current patients. In addition to being a great place to gather information, forums can offer more tips on how to find the right doctor for you.

4. Look at Which Doctors Are “In-Network”

Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll want to find the doctors in your provider network to ensure your insurance will cover your visits.

Your plan’s provider network is the list of hospitals and health care providers that work with your insurance company. The doctors on this list are “in-network,” while other providers are “out-of-network.” Insurance companies may use different networks for different plans, so be careful to search for doctors your plan covers.

Your choices may also depend on whether you have a preferred provider organization (PPO) or health maintenance organization (HMO) plan:

  • HMO: If you have an HMO plan, you must choose a PCP from a list of service providers within its network. Any specialists must also be in-network unless you’re receiving emergency care or have a referral from your PCP.
  • PPO: A PPO plan will cover more of the cost if your provider is in-network.

5. Create a Shortlist

Use the information you’ve gathered so far to create a shortlist of potential doctors. Make sure everything is easily accessible so it’s easy to compare your options.

The best way to start the comparison is to check for board certification. A board-certified doctor has had additional post-medical school training in their chosen specialty. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) maintains a website where you can check a provider’s certification for free.

6. Consider the Logistics

Now that you’ve begun to refine your list, the next step is to compare the logistics of visiting the remaining doctors. Consider the following questions:

  • Do they offer virtual appointments?
  • Is their office close to where you live or work?
  • Is there adequate parking or convenient public transportation nearby?
  • What are their office hours, and how do they fit your schedule?
  • Can you refill prescriptions, check test results or schedule appointments online?
  • Do they offer same-day appointments?

7. Do a Test Call or Visit

With your list narrowed down to your top choices, it’s time for the final round. Follow these steps to evaluate your first choice:

  1. Call their office: A cold call is the quickest way to discover how the office staff treats potential patients. It also gives you an opportunity to ask questions about the doctor’s availability, how easy it is to make an appointment and how long wait times may be.
  2. Go to a trial appointment: An office visit or virtual appointment will let you meet the doctor face-to-face and evaluate how comfortable you are with them, their nurses and staff. You’ll get an idea of their personality, medical opinions and approach to patient care.
  3. Ask questions: Your appointment is the perfect chance to determine how well a doctor meets your needs. Using your list as a guide, ask questions about their approach to medication, chronic conditions or any other concerns you still have.

If you still feel unsure at the end of your visit, repeat the process with your other top contenders until you find a winner.

8. Trust Your Instincts

How you feel during your visit is as important as how the doctor answers your questions. Keep the following questions in mind to judge whether or not the doctor is a good fit:

  • Do you feel comfortable or on edge?
  • Is the doctor listening to you and addressing your concerns?
  • Are they making sure you understand before moving on?

Your PCP is responsible for overseeing your total health, so it’s crucial to find a provider you can trust and rely on. If you feel like you might struggle opening up to them, move on to the next name on your list.

How to Choose a Primary Care Physician With Health for California

When you need a new primary doctor, Health for California can help you find an insurance plan with the best options and coverage.

We’ve been operating in California since 2004 and know how to navigate the insurance market. Our licensed agents will help you get a quote and find the best health insurance plan for your needs. Explore our services online and request a quote today!

Not sure how Obamacare affects your health care plans in California? Learn how the ACA works in California, including benefits, costs and enrollment.

Covered California is the Golden State’s official health exchange marketplace where individuals, families and small businesses can find high-quality, low-cost California government health insurance.

Learn about Obamacare income guidelines in California using our income limits chart, and see if you’re eligible for government assistance.

Learn about the Covered California website. Find easy online enrollment. Set up your account, log in, buy insurance and more on the California health marketplace website.