How to Choose a Primary Care Physician for Yourself and Your Family
Are you in the market for a new primary care physician for yourself or your family? Maybe you just moved, maybe your last physician retired, or maybe you just don’t think you and your current provider are a good fit.
Whatever the case may be, finding a new physician can feel daunting.
On DoctorsThatDO.org, we strive to make it a bit easier with our Find Your DO search tool, which provides a list of DOs in your area that you can filter by distance and specialty. However, this is just the first step. Primary care is innately personal, and finding the right fit can still be a challenge.
Aaron George, DO, an osteopathic family physician in Hagerstown, Maryland, says that finding a good match for you and your family can be boiled down to a handful of factors. It all just depends what you’re looking for.
Ask a friend, but know what fits you
Dr. George says the first step is simply to ask around—specifically about how they run their office. You might be thinking, don’t they all work roughly the same way? Well, yes and no.
“Some patients and families love quick visits with no wait time,” Dr. George says. “Others would prefer to have a lot of dedicated time to sit with the doctor, and wait a little bit longer, knowing that the trade-off is that they’re going to have a little bit more time in each visit. And in these settings, patients who are willing to wait often find it worthwhile. Regardless, having an understanding from someone in the community can set expectations for how an office is being run.”
Knowing which side of that trade-off you’re most comfortable with is a crucial component of a successful doctor-patient relationship, Dr. George says. If one primary care doctor has more availability than another, it could be because their visits with patients tend to be shorter. That doesn’t necessarily mean the quality of care provided is diminished, it just means office visits are less casual and conversational, and more to the point.
Sweat the small stuff
If you don’t have an opinion on the length of your visits, it can be tempting to try the first name that pops up in a search. But there are plenty of other considerations, Dr. George says. A short list should include:
- Is this doctor in network with your insurance?
- Is the cost of a visit within your price range?
- Is the office reasonably close to home (especially if you’re managing a health issue that requires more than a yearly checkup)?
- Is there an efficient system for communicating with the physician, like a messaging portal or a call system?
Dr. George adds that as telemedicine develops and becomes more prevalent across health care, the geographic location of an office, if it’s the one you truly feel the most comfortable with, may be less important.
Assess your comfort level based on your needs
A successful first visit can include a number of things depending on what qualities each party is looking for. Dr. George says he typically looks to: discuss a patient or family’s overall care needs, share what he and his office are able to provide for them, set expectations for care early on, and then try to determine if that’s a good fit for the start of a relationship together.
Dr. George says what patients should be looking for most out of that visit is the potential to develop a trusting relationship. It’s unlikely you developed that trust after one visit, whether you’re coming in to establish care, or to get a particular issue examined, so you’ll need to make a read based on if you initially felt comfortable.
Some good yes/no questions to ask yourself after the visit to assess that first impression could include: Did the doctor listen closely? Did you feel like they took an adequate interest in any concerns you may have brought up to them? Did they clearly communicate how they plan to approach your care?
Any other questions that matter to you are solely up to your discretion, and the answers to these may take a return visit, or a visit to another physician to see more clearly. Regardless of which path you take, personalized care that fits all of your or your family’s needs is worth the effort.
“I encourage patients to consider being willing to go back to see if a connection is revealed,” Dr. George says. “But it’s also ok to know you won’t connect, and to look for a relationship that’s a bit more relevant to you. You shouldn’t feel guilty for seeking better care.”
Ready to get started on finding a primary care physician? Check out our Find Your DO search tool!