Finding a primary care physician may be the most important thing you do for your health. In fact, research shows that patients who see a primary care physician have, on average, 33 percent lower annual health care expenses and a 19 percent lower mortality rate than patients who don’t.
But choosing the right primary care physician is just as important. When you trust your doctor, you’re more likely to schedule regular appointments and ask questions that can make a difference in the quality of your care. Here are some basic guidelines to follow when trying to find a good match.
Determine what kind of primary care physician you need
If you have a special health concern, consider looking for a primary care physician who specializes in that area. Older adults struggling with age-related issues, for example, may benefit from a geriatrician. Other primary care physicians may specialize in women’s health issues, sports medicine or chronic diseases such as diabetes. To find out if a physician you’re considering has specific areas of expertise, start by visiting his or her practice’s website.
Get a trusted referral
Ask your friends, family members and colleagues for recommendations. A recent Consumer Reports survey discovered that people who found their physicians through someone they trusted had the most favorable experiences.
Consider the convenience factor
Is the practice in a location that’s convenient for you? Does it offer evening or weekend hours? How long do you have to wait for appointments, and can you get same-day appointments for urgent needs?
Evaluate the chain of care
Find out who covers for your doctor when he or she is away. If your doctor works in a group, make sure that you are comfortable being seen by one of the group’s partners.
Research your doctor’s education and certification
You can often find this on his or her office website or through your insurer. You can also visit www.docboard.org — the official website of the national non-profit Administrators in Medicine—and use their free physician search tool to see if your doctor is in good standing with state licensing agencies.
Always check your insurance!
Don’t forget to confirm that your physician participates in your health plan. If he or she does not participate, how much will you pay for office visits—and are you willing to do so?
Call for an “interview”
Ask if you can schedule an appointment to meet the doctor and discuss your health needs. Keep in mind there may be a co-payment or fee for this service.
Finally, remember that choosing a primary care physician is just that: your choice. If you are ever unhappy with the care you receive, speak up or move on to someone who is a better match for you.
Dana Saunders is the director of Growth & Patient-Centered Innovations at Carroll Health Group.
Visit Carroll Hospital Center's online physician directory to help you in your search for a health care provider.