We've all had them - doctors who never seemed like they cared, practices that could never fit us in, nurses who were always too busy to say hello... it's not fun. But having a primary care provider is incredibly important to your health. So we've come up with our top ten tips to help you find the Primary Care Provider of your dreams!
FYI, there are a lot of different terms that healthcare professionals use to talk about people with similar roles. Primary Care Physician, Primary Care Doctor, Family Doctor, and Primary Care Provider are all very similar in meaning; they're all professionals who are your primary point of contact for all your health needs, the people who give you your annual physicals and you call when you worry you might have the flu. Primary Care Providers can also include Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants as well as doctors. Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants have specialized, advanced graduate degrees and are absolutely qualified to do all the same things a primary care doctor would. In this article, we'll use the term provider so you know we're referring to both.
10 Things to Look For in a Primary Care Provider (PCP)
- Someone who understands you.
This is probably the single most important thing, but we know it can be really hard to identify specifically what that looks like. We’ll give you a few particular things to think about.
- Does this provider take your concerns seriously?
We all have experienced a doctor who brushed away our very real worries about something at one point or another. That’s not a good thing. If your PCP brushes you off without taking time to examine your concerns, then that’s a bad sign. A good primary care provider should know that you know more about your body than anyone else and should always listen carefully to any concerns you bring them.
- Do you feel comfortable around them?This is probably something adults don’t spend too much time thinking about, but it’s actually important. Your doctor is someone who is going to hear the most intimate and personal things about your life so it’s important that you pick a doctor who you actually feel comfortable talking to. Part of a doctor’s job is to make sure their patients feel comfortable and safe with them. If you feel weird or anxious around your doctor, even if you can’t identify why specifically, that’s a perfectly good reason to find a new one.
- Someone who specializes in a particular field if you have illnesses or medical issues. Are you someone who has had trouble with drugs or alcohol? What about a disease like diabetes? You should try to do a bit of research before you see a new PCP to make sure that person is going to have some understanding and expertise with regards to your health concerns.
Now, if you have a serious medical issue, you probably also have a specialist doctor who is going to be managing your condition. PCPs, by contrasts, are generalists who are not going to have the same level of expertise as a specialist. But it’s still important to have a PCP who understands what you’re going through and can tailor their approach to fit your specific medical needs.
Some PCPs list their medical interests or specializations on their website, which you can check out before you go. At Derry Medical Center, we actually have a webpage for each provider that not only lists their interests and research, but also has a video so you can get to know them a bit as a person, too!
You can also ask your PCP directly whether or not they have other patients who have dealt with similar conditions and they’ll be happy to tell you. Many providers will be happy to refer you to a colleague if they think that person might be a bit better fit for your medical needs.
- Someone who is accepting new patients and has time to see you. Sounds basic, but it’s actually very important! If you’ve ever spent time hunting for a new doctor, you’ll know what I mean; at most medical practices, all the provider’s schedules are full already. What a drag! So always call to make sure that your dream PCP is actually accepting new patients before you get too excited about working with them! At Derry Medical Center, we’re a bit unusual - ALL of our offices are always accepting new patients! So you can browse through our website, learn about all of our providers, and take your pick about who seems like the right fit for you!
- An office where you can get sick appointments as well as annual physicals. We’ve all had that experience - your whole body is hurting, you want to sleep for a year, and you really want to go to the doctor and figure out what is wrong with you, only to hear “Can you come in in two weeks?” Yeah… not so helpful. Talk to the receptionist at the practice and ask them about their scheduling. Do they leave plenty of openings for sick visits? Do they squeeze in patients who need to come in urgently? Is it possible to see another provider if your PCP isn’t in that day? It’s important, and you’ll thank yourself for it when you’re sick. If you're a patient at Derry Medical Center, we make it super easy for you with same-day appointments and “call-ahead” urgent care.
- Someone in your network. This one is crucial. You should always try to find a doctor who is going to be covered by your insurance. You should ask whether or not the doctor will be “in-network” for you, which means you will pay the lowest possible copay at your visits. If they tell you that you will be “out of network”, you might want to reconsider. It will mean that every appointment and test done is going to be significantly more expensive.
- An office where you can leave messages for a provider through a patient portal.
This is another question you should definitely ask the receptionist. Sometimes when you have a super busy day and something is feeling just a little off, you’d much rather ask someone your question and see what they say before just abandoning your schedule and trying to go in for a visit. At the best offices, there will be a patient portal that allows you to communicate with your PCP and their team to save you a lot of time and hassle. Patient portals are also convenient for accessing your medical records and test results, and to pay your bills online.
- Somewhere with flexible hours for appointments.
If you’ve got a busy schedule, this one is super important; sometimes, as you know, 9-5 is just not going to cut it. Ask if your facility has early, late, or weekend hours. At Derry Medical, all of our facilities have extended hours from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm either 3 or 4 days a week. The Derry office has Saturday hours from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm that patients from any of our offices can access. We don't want you to have to choose between your work and your health.
- Someone who can also see your family (if you have one).
Are you married? Do you have children? Make life a million times easier for all of you by having your family members see the same provider, or another provider at the same practice! Again, this can be tricky if your provider only accepts adults or if only one provider in the practice is accepting new patients. At Derry Medical you won’t have that problem because all of our offices are always accepting new patients of all ages… all the time! (We try to make it easy for you, what can we say?)
Thank you for reading and we hope this guide is helpful. Having a primary care provider is incredibly important to your health and your family’s health, so if you haven’t had one in a while, now is the time!
If you’re in New Hampshire or New England, we’d love to see you at Derry Medical Center! Click the button below to learn more about us!