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Choosing a primary care provider

Family doctor - how to choose one; Primary care provider - how to choose one; Doctor - how to choose a family doctor

A primary care provider (PCP) is a health care practitioner who sees people that have common medical problems. This person is most often a doctor. However, a PCP may be a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner. Your PCP is often involved in your care for a long time. Therefore, it is important to choose someone with whom you will work well.

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A PCP is your main health care provider in non-emergency situations. Your PCP's role is to:

Primary care is most often provided in an outpatient setting. However, if you are admitted to the hospital, your PCP may assist in or direct your care, depending on the circumstances.

Having a PCP can give you a trusting, ongoing relationship with one medical professional over time. You can choose from several different types of PCPs:

Many insurance plans limit the providers you can choose from, or provide financial incentives for you to select from a specific list of providers. Make sure you know what your insurance covers before starting to narrow down your options.

When choosing a PCP, also consider the following:

You can get referrals from:

Another option is to request an appointment to "interview" a potential provider. There may be no cost to do this, or you may be charged a co-payment or other small fee. Some practices, particularly pediatric practice groups, may have an open house where you have an opportunity to meet several of the providers in that particular group.

If a health care problem comes up and you do not have a primary provider, in most cases, it is best to seek non-emergency care from an urgent care center rather than a hospital emergency room. This will often save you time and money. In recent years, many emergency rooms have expanded their services to include urgent care within the emergency room itself or an adjoining area. To find out, contact the hospital first.

References

Goldman L, Schafer AI. Approach to medicine, the patient, and the medical profession: medicine as a learned and humane profession. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 1.

Rakel RE. Family physician. In: Rakel RE, Rakel D. eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 1.

US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Human Services. Choosing a doctor: quick tips. health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/doctor-visits/regular-checkups/choosing-doctor-quick-tips. Updated March 30,2022. Accessed March 30, 2022.

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Review Date: 7/19/2021  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 03/30/2022.

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