Find a provider who's right for you
What to look for when choosing a primary care provider.
Choosing a primary care provider is very personal. After all, this is someone you should be able to trust and talk freely to—someone who will help you make important decisions about your health.
If you don't have a provider, these important tips from the American Academy of Family Physicians and other experts can help you find a good match:
Don't put it off. You don't have to be sick or injured to look for a provider. Start your search when you're in good health. That way, when health problems come up, you'll have someone to turn to right away.
Understand your options. Many different kinds of doctors can be primary care providers. Yours might be a family physician, an internist or a geriatrician, for example. Or they don't have to be a doctor at all. You might see a nurse practitioner or physician assistant instead.
Decide what you're looking for. Make a list of the qualities that are important to you. You may have a preference in gender, office hours, location or hospital affiliation. Or you might want someone experienced in treating people with your health conditions or disabilities. You also want to be sure the provider speaks your primary language. Once you've made the list, rank the qualities and decide which ones are essential.
Gather possibilities. Ask friends, relatives and co-workers to suggest providers. Find out what they like about the people they're recommending. Check with your local hospital for recommendations. And make sure your health insurance plan will cover visits to the providers on your list.
Find out if doctors are board-certified. Choosing a board-certified doctor isn't a must. But looking at board certification can help you find a doctor who's well-trained in an area that's important to you. Doctors who are board-certified have extra training after medical school. To keep their certification, doctors must continue to update their training. To find out if a doctor is board-certified, visit the American Board of Medical Specialties website.
Narrow down your choices. Once you have two or three finalists, call their offices and ask about their education and qualifications. Make an appointment to meet and talk with the provider you feel is best for you. At that visit, consider asking questions about the provider's experience with patients like you, how easy they are to reach when you have questions and who takes care of you if they're away. If it doesn't seem like a good fit, schedule a visit with the next provider on your list.
Once you've chosen a provider, be sure to have your medical records moved from your old provider to your new one.
A strong relationship
Remember, it's up to both of you to make the provider-patient relationship a success. You can do your part by being open about your symptoms and other health concerns. You'll also want to be honest about your health habits—even ones your provider may not approve of. Your honesty will help your provider give you the best possible treatments for any illnesses you may have and advise you on steps you can take to stay healthy.
Your provider should make you feel comfortable, respected and supported—and be willing to provide healthcare that's in line with your culture, values and wishes. If you're not at ease with your provider, don't be afraid to make a switch.