Choosing a primary care provider: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

a pcp is your main health care provider in non-emergency situations. the role of your pcp is:

  • provide preventive care and teach healthy lifestyle choices
  • identify and treat common medical conditions
  • assess the urgency of your medical problems and direct you to the best place to be careful
  • make referrals to specialist doctors when necessary

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

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

  • Family Physicians: Physicians who have completed a residency in family medicine and are board certified or eligible for this specialty. their scope of practice includes children and adults of all ages and may include obstetrics and minor surgery.
  • pediatricians: physicians who have completed a pediatric residency and are board certified or -eligible in this specialty. their scope of practice includes the care of newborns, infants, children, and adolescents.
  • geriatricians: physicians who have completed a residency in family medicine or internal medicine and are in the board -certified in this specialty. often serve as PCPs for older adults with complex medical needs related to aging.
  • Internists: Physicians who have completed a residency in internal medicine and are board certified or eligible in this specialty. their scope of practice includes caring for adults of all ages for many different medical problems.
  • OB/GYNs: physicians who have completed a residency and are board certified or -eligible in this specialty. often serve as PCPs for women, particularly those of childbearing age.
  • Nurse Practitioners (NPs) and Physician Assistants (PAs): Practitioners who go through a different training and certification process than the doctors. they can be your pcp at some practices.

Many insurance plans limit the providers you can choose from or provide financial incentives to select from a specific list of providers. make sure you know what your insurance covers before you start narrowing down your options.

When choosing a pcp, also consider the following:

  • Is the office staff friendly and helpful? Are the office good for returning calls?
  • Are the office hours convenient for your schedule?
  • How easy is it to contact the provider? Does the provider use email?
  • Do you prefer a provider whose communication style is friendly and warm, or more formal?
  • Do you prefer a provider focused on treating illnesses or wellness and prevention?
  • does the provider have a conservative or aggressive approach to treatment?
  • does the provider order many tests?
  • does the provider refer see other specialists frequently or infrequently?
  • what do colleagues and patients say about the provider?
  • does the provider invite you to participate in their care? Does the provider view their patient-provider relationship as a true partnership?

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you can get referrals from:

  • friends, neighbors, or relatives
  • state-level medical associations, nursing associations, and physician assistant associations
  • your dentist, pharmacist, optometrist, previous provider, or other health professionals
  • advocacy groups can be especially helpful in finding the best provider for a specific chronic condition or disability
  • many health plans, such as hmos or ppos, have websites, directories, or customer service personnel that can help you select a pcp that is right for you

Another option is to request an appointment to “interview” a potential provider. there may be no cost to you, or you may be charged a copay or other small fee. Some practices, particularly pediatric practice groups, may have open houses where you will have the opportunity to meet several of the providers in that particular group.

If a health care problem arises and you do not have a primary provider, in most cases, it is better to seek non-emergency care at 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 in an adjoining area. to find out, contact the hospital first.

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