Picking a Primary Care Physician 101

You may not spend much time thinking about it, but your relationship with your primary care doctor may be among the most important in your life.

Your primary care physician understands and treats your whole body and mind and can play the role of quarterback for you when specialist care is needed.

While primary care physicians may seem less knowledgeable than specialists in some instances, ongoing visits to a primary care doctor offer a valuable benefit: a long-term relationship. Through regular visits, a doctor analyzes all of the information about you to make a more complete, informed diagnosis. And a good doctor allows you to feel comfortable bringing up smaller concerns before they develop into bigger issues. So it’s important to take special care when selecting that professional. Here are a few tips to start the process:

  1. Do your research: When it comes to finding a physician in your area, in addition to word of mouth from friends, neighbors, and family, there are also plenty of online resources, such as Healthgrades, Vitals, and WebMD, where you can see a doctor’s credentials, years of practice, and specialties, as well as how he or she is rated by their patients. You’ll also want to read about the training, practice philosophy, and background of the physician so that you can pick one that matches your needs and care philosophy.
  2. Interview a few before you choose one: Once you’ve checked that the doctor is in-network, and whether you can afford the extra copay, try out a few doctors to see how you connect with them. While clinical expertise is certainly an important factor in selecting your physician, feeling comfortable and being able to speak openly and honestly about your concerns is equally important. It’s vital to pick someone who is a good listener, who takes time to address your concerns, and is accessible in times of need.
  3. Sometimes, change is good: Most important, don’t be afraid to change physicians if your doctor isn’t working for you, or isn’t listening to you. If you don’t get a good feeling in your first couple of appointments, try someone else.

And remember that finding the right primary care physician can take time. Your future health—and future self—depend on it.