How to Choose Primary Care Physicians

Do you need to choose a new medical provider? There are more than a few physicians in your neighborhood—and you're not sure which healthcare professional is the right choice. Before you select a primary care physician (or PCP), take a look at the questions to ask.

What Do You Want in a New Doctor?

The answer to this question begins with the obvious. Your new PCP should have a valid license to practice medicine in your state and the required training/experience. Any practicing PCP should have completed college, medical school, a residency program, and possibly additional training in family medicine or a similar type of specialty. 

Beyond the basics, you will need to consider what you personally look for in a doctor. These points could include:

  • Male or female. Do you feel more comfortable having a man or a woman examine you? Some patients don't have a preference, while others feel more comfortable with a doctor of the same sex.

  • Ability to listen. Do you want a doctor who devotes a significant amount of the appointment time to communication? While the physical exam is important, some patients also want extra time to talk about concerns or potential problems.

  • Bedside manner. Bedside manner refers to the approach or attitude the doctor takes towards their patients. Doctors are highly trained professionals—and not paid friends. But this doesn't mean your PCP will only provide you with the facts in a dry, emotionless way. 

To learn more about the doctor's bedside manner you may need to talk to the PCP in person. If this isn't possible, ask the front office staff for more information on the doctor's typical approach to patient care or get real-world references from friends and family members who are existing patients.

Can You Choose the Doctor?

You've made a list of what you want or prefer in a doctor. Now that you've found a few PCPs that match the description, you're ready to take the next step and make sure that you can choose the providers. You can choose any medical provider you want. But this doesn't mean that the doctor will accept you as a patient or that your insurance will pay for the visits. 

Ask your would-be future doctor:

  • Are you accepting new patients? Some practices are at capacity. If the doctor already has too many patients, they may not have the time to accept new ones right now.

  • Do you only accept a specific age group of patients? Family practice physicians accept patients of all ages. But some other doctors (such as senior care PCPs) only work with specific populations.

  • Are you a preferred provider? Some insurance companies require patients to choose from a preferred provider list. This ensures that the doctor is in your health insurance company's network. 

An in-network provider has a billing agreement with the insurance company. This means you are likely to pay less for their services than you would with a doctor who is out-of-network.