Choosing a Primary Care Doctor: Which Physician Is Right for You?
If you're about to turn 26 and come off of your parents' health insurance plan, it might be time to start searching for a new primary care doctor — also referred to as a primary care physician (PCP). Here are a few steps you can take in order to find the right doctor that best fits your needs and comfort levels.
Begin Your Primary Care Doctor Search
First, why not begin with the people you already trust? Ask your friends for the names of their primary care doctors. If they enjoy going to them and trust them, their doctors might be a great fit for you as well. Ask why they love their physicians and where the physicians are located as well — a long drive or trip on public transit can make a huge difference in whether or not you decide to be a patient.
As referrals begin to roll in, be sure to note if a doctor is a general practitioner, specializes in internal medicine, or has a practice focused on those with a chronic ailment (e.g., if you need support for an autoimmune concern). This will help you focus your list if you have particular needs that your current physician meets and want to continue with your new doctor.
Compare Referrals to Physicians on Your New Health Insurance Plan
Once you have those referrals rolling in and a short list of primary care doctors that pique your interest, the next step is seeing which of those physicians accept your new insurance.
If you're shopping for insurance on the government marketplace, you may want to do a physician-specific search so you can choose a plan that your doctor of choice accepts. If you're locked into a new plan by your employer, you can use the plan's website or even call the insurer to see if they accept any of the physicians you're interested in choosing.
Once you narrow down your list of referrals, it's time to dive in with a more personal approach to see if this is the right PCP relationship for you.
Ask Additional Questions
With the way health insurance is structured, it's nearly impossible to take your short list of prospective physicians for a test drive before you choose. However, there are some savvy ways you can fortify your research to help you make a more informed choice.
First, follow up with your friends who referred the physicians you're leaning toward and ask about what their in-office experience is like. Friends might adore their doctors but have long wait times and difficulty getting an appointment.
Next, call the physician's office — the staff is your gateway to service. How does the office answer the phone or handle your call as a prospective patient? This is also an ideal time to inquire about scheduling options (such as through an online patient portal) and the availability of same-day appointments for urgent illnesses.
Finally, do a little web searching. Sites such as Zocdoc offer ratings, credential verification, and reviews from current and former patients.
Make the Choice
With the above information in hand, you can find a new primary care doctor that you trust and that is close-by for visits. And if your physician isn't a great fit, changing your PCP during the year is often just a click or phone call away.