Healthy Living

How to Choose a Primary Care Physician

Aug 7 2023

Knowing how to choose a primary care physician is important because they are the front line in your health care.

This is who you’ll see for regular checkups. It’s the doctor most likely to spot the early signs of disease, illness or chronic conditions and come up with treatment plans for them. Overall, staying on top of your health ups the odds of you living a longer, healthier life.

Additionally, establishing a relationship with your primary care physician allows them to become familiar with your health history and what is normal for your body. Plus, primary care providers with a family practice treat patients of all ages, so they can offer comprehensive care for your entire family, providing a centralized location for all your medical needs.

Given the relationship you will build with your primary care provider, choosing the right one is essential. You find a doctor that will be on your side, who you trust and who you feel comfortable talking with. But there’s also a lot more to consider when selecting a primary care physician.

First, think about what you’re looking for.

When considering primary care providers, you will come across two types of doctors: those with an MD, or Doctor of Medicine degree, and those with a DO, or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree. Both degrees require rigorous education and training, but here are the differences between the two.

Medical doctors, or MDs, follow the traditional allopathic approach to medicine. The focus is on diagnosing and treating medical conditions using evidence-based practices. Osteopathic doctors, or DOs, take a more holistic approach to medicine, emphasizing the connection between the body’s systems and the person as a whole.

Choosing between an MD and a DO ultimately depends on your personal preferences and the specific needs of your health care journey. Once you have that figured out, start thinking about what makes you comfortable with your medical professional.

Are you looking for a primary care provider who is the same gender or age as you? Who speaks the same language? If so, find out which providers offer translation services.

Also, make sure to decide if you would like your primary care provider to be an internist or a family physician. Internists practice internal medicine, which means they specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases and conditions that affect adults. As for family physicians, they are trained to provide primary care for patients of all ages, including adults.

Second, consider convenience.

Building a solid relationship with your doctor is great. But you’re also far more likely to stay on top of routine checkups if your provider’s office is in a convenient location. Whittle down your list of possible choices by location. Also, consider their office hours, if they have telehealth services available and whether you can have online access to medical records. You will also want to check with your health insurance plan to ensure the provider you choose is in your network doctors of covered providers.

Third, get other people’s opinions.    

When choosing a primary care doctor, ask around and find out everything you can about the providers you’re thinking about. Talk to friends and family – someone you know may have a primary care provider they love.

If you’re still coming up short on information, use the internet to do a little research. Find a physician compare tool or read reviews, recommendations and details about what others have experienced provide a window into what you can expect.

Schedule an appointment

To help you choose a doctor, schedule an appointment with the primary care provider you’re considering. During this first visit, test the waters, get to know the office staff and ask the provider important questions to get to know them better and to see if you’ll work well together.

Questions to consider include:

  • What is your approach to preventive care?
  • How do you involve patients in decision-making about their health care?
  • How do you handle referrals to specialists?
  • What is your philosophy on medication management?
  • What is your preferred method of communication with patients?
  • Do you offer telehealth or virtual appointments?
  • How do you handle after-hours emergencies or urgent medical concerns?
  • Can I call or email with questions?
  • What is your policy on involving family members in decisions about care?
  • How do you create personalized health plans for your patients?

It’s important to advocate for your health and learning how to choose a primary care physician is one of the best ways to do that.

Learn about the primary care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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