Whether you’re native to Metro Atlanta, recently moved or are just ready for a change, selecting a primary care physician is an important first step toward managing your healthcare. Your primary care doctor is your medical “home.” It’s the doctor you visit for most medical needs, including wellness visits and routine screenings, non-emergency illnesses like earaches and sore throats, and the person you speak to about your health questions and concerns. If you have insurance, your primary care physician will also be the person who refers you to see a specialist.
Some patient-primary care relationships can span decades, while others will be short-lived because you change insurance or move. No matter how long you plan to see your primary care physician, the relationship is an important one. You’ll want to select someone you feel comfortable having honest conversations with, someone with expertise in the areas that meet your health needs, and someone who is “in-network” for your health insurance plan.
Here are five tips for choosing a new primary care physician:
1. Determine Which Doctors Are “In-Network”
Most health plans have negotiated special, discounted rates with certain doctors and hospitals in your area, and you will pay less out of pocket for visiting those doctors, who are called “in-network” for insurance purposes. Ensuring that you select an “in-network” doctor will help you avoid a surprise “out-of-network” charge or having to pay in full out of pocket because the doctor you’ve selected doesn’t accept your insurance plan.
2. Find a Doctor with Expertise that Meets Your Health Needs
Now that you have the list of in-network doctors, you can begin narrowing it down. There are several different types of doctor that will be identified as a primary care physician – typically Family Practice is the most comprehensive physician you will encounter to best take care of all your needs.
Family Practice – Family practice physicians are able to treat patients of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. They are generalists who can treat a wide variety of conditions, and often can also treat ailments you’d normally see a specialist for, like sports injuries or some women’s health needs.
Nurse Practitioners – Advanced Family Practice Nurse Practitioners are like family practice physicians and can treat patients of any gender or age. This category is one area where you might also find excellent care providers that work along side an experienced physician
3. Ask for Referrals
Many people feel most comfortable visiting a physician who is recommended by someone they know, like a family member, co-worker or friend. Ask around and see what doctor your friends and family visit. You can also ask another healthcare professional with whom you have a relationship, like a women’s primary care physician, a pharmacist, or even your dentist for a recommendation. If you’re moving, ask your current doctor if they have a recommendation for your new location.
4. Think About Logistics
Do you want a doctor located close to your home or office? Use your insurance carrier’s doctor directory or “provider finder” to search for doctors with an office location that is convenient for you to visit. You’ll also want to consider office hours – what days and times does the doctor see patients? Will you need to take time off work to visit the office, or can you go after work or on weekends? It’s also a good idea to check what hospital the doctor admits patients to.
Language is another important factor to check. You need to be able to communicate clearly with your doctor, so check which languages he or she speaks to be sure you’ll be able to understand each other. Many doctors now use email or an online portal to communicate with patients, which may be another item of importance to tech-savvy communicators when selecting a physician.
5. Visit the Doctor
Nothing can really give you a feel for whether you’ve selected the right doctor like an office visit and a face-to-face meeting. Be sure you feel comfortable in the office and with the physician and nurses. Your primary care physician should be someone you trust and can rely on to help manage your healthcare. Talk with him or her about any current medications you are taking and your medical history to be sure you are on the same page when it comes to managing any chronic conditions.
When in the office, you should evaluate other environmental factors. Take into account the demeanor of the people who answer the phone and greet you when you walk in – are they efficient and friendly? The most critical issue is do they take walk-in patients each day they are open, when you need to see your provider, can you! Are the phones answered in a timely manner? How far in advance do you need to schedule an appointment? And how long is the wait to see the doctor after you arrive for your appointment?
If for any reason you are not happy with your choice, most insurance plans allow for you to change your primary care physician anytime during the plan year.