5 tips for choosing a primary care doctor

When it comes to your health and well-being, a primary care provider (PCP) may be among your most important resources for getting the care that meets your needs.

Research indicates people with a primary care doctor may be healthier, in part, because they are more likely to have an annual checkup, health screenings and immunizations. In addition to delivering these types of preventive care, a PCP can help coordinate a whole-person approach to health by:

  • Managing various chronic conditions
  • Overseeing other treatments and medications
  • Offering referrals to specialists
  • Identifying potential mental health issues
  • Considering social barriers to health

Connecting with your primary doctor may be more convenient than ever, thanks to the increased availability of virtual care that enables a patient and care provider to meet through a smartphone, tablet or computer.

In fact, through a growing number of telehealth capabilities, care can now begin with an online appointment and connect to in-person support when necessary. This may help make access to medical advice more convenient and affordable.

Access to virtual care is one of many factors to consider when selecting a primary care doctor.

Five tips for choosing a PCP

1. Decide what kind of doctor is the best fit

Depending on your situation, you may choose a different PCP for each member of your family:

  • Family medicine physicians or general practitioners are board-certified in family medicine to provide preventive and whole-person health care for people of all ages — from newborns to seniors.
  • Internal medicine physicians are trained to solve adult diagnostic problems and may focus on a specific health concern. Internists are board-certified in the broad field of internal medicine (conditions that affect organs) and may have an emphasis on subspecialties including cardiology, oncology, gastroenterology and more.
  • Obstetrics/gynecology (OB/GYN) doctors specialize in women’s reproductive health, including pregnancy care and well-child visits.
  • Pediatricians monitor the development of the physical, mental and social health of children, from birth to young adulthood.
  • Geriatricians focus on health care for older adults, especially those with complicated medical and social issues.

2. Check your insurance network

Health plans have discounted rates with certain doctors, so choosing an in-network physician may help reduce out-of-pocket costs. Search the provider directory on your insurance company’s website or call the number on the back of your member ID card to find out if the doctor you’re considering is a network provider.

If you’re a UnitedHealthcare plan member, you can sign into your member account to find a doctor in your network. Consider searching for one designated as a UnitedHealth Premium® physician, meaning they meet objective quality and cost-efficiency guidelines.

3. Ask for recommendations

Keep in mind things that make appointments convenient and comfortable for you, such as the distance to a clinic or a doctor’s age, gender and training. Then, consider asking family or friends if they’ve had good experiences with their primary care doctor — and why. If you see other health professionals, consider asking them for a recommendation or referral.

4. Do your research

Use credible resources when looking for details about care providers. Consider the American Medical Association’s DoctorFinder tool for locating a physician. The American Board of Medical Specialties
certification search provides information about whether a doctor has trained for and passed an exam to become 
board certified in a medical specialty.

5. Connect with staff and doctors

When you’ve found a few good candidates, consider calling their clinics. Staff may be able to help with logistical questions, including ones about after-hours care, cancelation policies and who covers for a doctor when they are not available.

When you’ve settled on a first choice for your PCP, consider scheduling an appointment, either in-person or virtually, to go over your medical history, health concerns and any remaining issues. If you feel the doctor appears knowledgeable, listens carefully and answers your questions, you may have found a match — a physician to collaborate with on your continuing health needs. 

Why you should have a primary care provider

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