Millions of people visit their primary care doctor every year as their first point of care when they are ill, injured or have a medical concern. Some insurance plans require you to choose a primary care provider (PCP), but required or not, it’s a good idea to establish a relationship with a physician who can provide routine care and advise you if you need more specialized expertise.
How do you choose a primary care doctor? In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Kosha Nathwani, MD, a family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Encinitas, about what factors to consider when you’re deciding on a PCP.
Primary care physicians provide care for a wide range of general health conditions, such as respiratory viruses, digestive problems, headaches, rashes, minor injuries and so on. They also provide preventive care through annual wellness exams and vaccines. If you need care beyond what they provide, they can help you access it.
“Primary care physicians act as the quarterbacks of your medical team,” says Dr. Nathwani. “They can order additional testing and place referrals to specialists and physical or occupational therapy. In fact, some health insurance plans will not cover specialized care without a PCP referral.”
Several types of physicians can serve as primary care doctors. Typically, an adult will choose an internal medicine or family practice physician as a PCP; women may choose their OB/GYN if they wish. Seniors may choose a geriatrician who treats mostly older patients. Pediatricians serve as PCPs for children.
When you begin your search for a PCP, start by thinking about what characteristics are important to you. Basic considerations may include their gender, age, languages spoken, and office locations. If you have specific hospitals where you prefer to receive care, make sure they have privileges with those hospitals and can admit and treat patients there.
“Beyond the basics, you want to make sure you choose someone with whom you feel comfortable and can speak openly and honestly about your medical concerns,” says Dr. Nathwani. “You want someone who you can see yourself building a long-lasting relationship with.”
Different doctors vary in their interests and their approach to treating patients. Some doctors prefer to use more of a research-based approach that focuses on the specific body part or condition, whereas others use a more holistic approach that combines eastern and western philosophies.
How do you find out which approach a doctor prefers? Most hospitals have a physician referral section on their website that gives you insight into a doctor’s background and philosophy of care. At scripps.org for example, you can click on ‘Find a Doctor’ and read biographies of the various primary care providers available, as well as review their education and training.
Personal referrals from people you know and trust also can be very helpful. Ask friends and family members if they have primary care physicians they would recommend. Also, if you find a physician who seems like a good fit, doing an online search for reviews from patients may provide additional information.
Before your first appointment, make a list of your medical conditions, all prescription and over-the-counter medications you take and the dosages, and your most recent immunizations and preventive screening exams. All of these can help your doctor tailor your care to what you need.
In many cases, follow-up visits can be done virtually online, where you can talk with your doctor via video chat.
“Even if you have no acute medical issues or chronic medical conditions, it's still important to check in with your doctor for an annual exam so they can go over any preventive testing that might be necessary,” says. Dr. Nathwani. “They can also review your diet, your exercise routine, and just make sure that you're living a healthy lifestyle.”