Looking for a new primary care provider? Some advice from a doctor

Doctor's hands on stethoscope

Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC

Guest Post by John Yindra, M.D.

It can be challenging to find a provider who is a good fit for you and your family. Friends often say to me, “It must be easy for you to find a PCP because you’re a doctor.” Despite what you might think, finding a healthcare provider isn’t necessarily second nature for us — it’s that we know what to look for and how to find it. Here are some tips if you are looking for a healthcare provider.

[Tweet “Looking for a new doctor? Ask your friends”]

STEP 1: The Search

The initial search for a provider can be overwhelming. For starters, become familiar with the various primary care providers and their approaches to medicine. This list will help describe the types of providers you will encounter in your search.

Generally, there are three search starting points: 1) Personal Referrals, 2) In-Network Providers, and 3) Out-of-Network Providers.

Know Yourself: Personal Referrals

Often the best place to start is with your preferences and your close friends and family. If you prefer to have quick visits or to ask a lot of questions, ask friends and family if they can recommend a provider that matches your preferences. The provider’s personality is an important part of your decision. There’s no better starting place than relying upon referrals from those who know you best.

Lean on Your Insurance: In-Network Lists

If you don’t have a referral, or if your referral isn’t accepting new patients, your insurance provider is a great next step. Your health insurer typically will have an online list of in-network providers that you can use to guide your search. Evaluate your priorities when you search. Ask yourself questions like, “how far do I want to travel?” or “what are their office hours?”

Know Your Coverage: Out-of-Network Lists

Sometimes you’ll get a great referral from a close friend for a doctor who isn’t in network. Or you’ve done your research on a specialist and the best match isn’t in-network. Check with your insurer to find out what your out-of-pocket costs will be ahead of time. Most insurers cover a percentage of routine preventive services even for out-of-network coverage.

STEP 2: Check Board Certification and Credentials

Quality and accreditation matter. When you see a doctor with certification from the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) that means they received their license from the state medical board, an accredited residency, and a medical degree from a qualified medical school. The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) website also has individual quality ratings on physicians.

STEP 3: Before Your First Visit

Access to your provider and the practice policies can make a difference in your overall experience. Check their office hours—do they have extended hours, are there same-day appointments, weekend availability? When is the first available appointment, is it a month, three months, or even 6 months away?

  • Prepare For Your Visit

I often tell friends to think about the questions they might ask if their own loved one was going in for a doctor’s visit. Use that same curiosity to ask about your own health.

  • Pack a notepad with you so you can take notes during your appointment
  • Write down your questions ahead of time as well as any previous medical history, prescriptions, or treatments to show to your doctor.

STEP 4: The First Visit

According to a 2014 survey by the AP and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, more than 50% of Americans determine their doctor based on personality and relationship. Finding a provider is about identifying a true partner in the health care of yourself and your family. A true partnership means a long-term relationship built on trust, open communication, and health care when you need it and how you are comfortable receiving it.

Here are some questions/tips that may help you on that first visit.

  • Does your provider listen and answer your questions, are they clear in explaining treatment/procedures, prescriptions, or diagnoses?
  • Show your provider your list of prior medical treatment, prescriptions or medical history.
  • If a drug is prescribed to you, ask if there is a generic equivalent. This can save you money at the pharmacy.
  • How can you follow up after your visit? Is there a patient portal and does your doctor use the portal? Does your provider have an email address that they check regularly or can you follow up directly with a nurse?
  • If you don’t understand what your provider is saying, repeat it back in your own words aloud, and don’t be shy about taking notes.

Doctor John Yindra

Learn what you want and need in a provider and learn to know when it’s not working. Finding a doctor is an important first step in managing your health, but don’t just take it from me.

Guest Post by John Yindra, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, Community Health Options


Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. She now hosts and produces the Catching Health podcast and writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.