Picking a Primary Care Provider for Yourself or a Loved OnePosted by Medicare Made Clear
You might not think about a doctor until you need one. But a relationship with a primary care physician who serves as your first point of contact might help you live a healthier life.
Scientific American reports studies that link lower mortality rates, fewer hospital visits, and better health outcomes to primary care provider access.
A primary care provider is a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant who you see for general health matters and who focuses on care of the whole person.
If you’ve never had a primary care provider or if your doctor moved or retired, you might be in need of one.
So to find a doctor, where do you start? How do you narrow down your options?
Chandra Torgerson, chief nursing officer for UnitedHealthcare, says you can ask family and friends if they like and trust their doctor. You can even ask to interview a doctor to see if she or he is a good fit for you.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) says you can ask for recommendations from other health professionals you see or from local health facilities like hospitals or medical schools.
Search Your Network
Your insurer is another resource for finding a doctor. You can search your plan’s network. Doctors in an insurer’s network contract with the insurer and agree to accept the insurer’s payment rates as compensation. If you go outside your plan’s network, you may pay more.
Some insurers offer robust search tools that let you narrow down doctors by location, whether they are accepting new patients, and what languages they speak.
You can also search for doctors using Medicare’s Physician Compare. This tool provides information about primary care providers, specialists, hospitals, and more. Importantly, it lets you easily find providers who accept Medicare.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department also offers HealthFinder.gov which lets you search for doctors.
Do Your Homework
Once you have landed on a name or two, you can call the doctor to find out about appointment cancellation and payment policies and after-hour access. You may also ask who covers for the doctor if he or she is out of the office.
Medline Plus, a National Institute’s of Health web site, also suggests asking about office policies on returning calls and using email.
If you are worried about choosing the right doctor, you can bring someone with you to meet and interview each of your choices. If you are a caregiver, you can tag along with your loved one.
You might want to research a doctor’s background. Web sites like the American Board of Medical Specialties Certification Matters and the American Medical Association Doctor Finder are good resources. The sites allow you to search for a doctor’s certification or educational background.
You may also be able to learn about complaints filed against doctors through your state medical board.
For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.