March 2023 Maximixe your HSA e-Newsletter  Vol. 19, Issue 3

How To Choose a Primary Care Physician

Choosing your primary care physician is one of the most important healthcare decisions you can make. 

Your PCP formally serves as your gatekeeper between you and the entire healthcare system. This is especially true if you are in an HMO type of plan, which requires a PCP referral every time you want to see a specialist.

But your PCP is more than just a referral point of contact. Your PCP will be your closest advisor and confidant in the healthcare system. It’s your primary care doctor who will be your most frequent healthcare contact.

That’s the person who will be monitoring your vital signs for changes, who will be: 

  • reading your lab test results and explaining to you what they mean
  •  renewing and adjusting your medications 
  • may be telling you some things that your friends and family can’t tell you – like you really need to do something about that weight you put on, or that troubling rise in your a1c levels!. 

Here are some of the things you should consider when choosing a PCP.

  • Check the speciality. Make sure you’re looking for the right type of doctor. There are three types of PCPs – family medicine physicians, internal medicine physicians, and pediatricians. Choose the one that fits your needs and the needs of your family members.
  • Make sure your doctor takes your health plan. If you are on a healthsharing plan, you usually don’t have to worry about that. If you are on a traditional health insurance plan, check your provider’s directory to see which PCPs participate under your plan.
  • Choose an independent. Unless you have a health insurance plan that requires it, try to avoid doctors that are full-time employees of large healthcare systems and instead choose an independent practice. This helps you preserve your options and your health care liberty over time.
  • Consider logistics. Choose a PCP that is conveniently located and has office hours that work with your schedule. Otherwise you could find yourself canceling or missing too many appointments. Does the doctor regularly do telehealth appointments?
  • Ask for recommendations. Ask friends, family, or coworkers for recommendations. You can also ask your current doctor or a specialist for a referral. Good doctors know who the other good doctors are in your town. 
  • Research online. Look up PCPs in your area on healthcare websites, such as Healthgrades or ZocDoc. Read patient reviews and ratings to get an idea of their bedside manner and experience. But understand that some great doctors may be a little gruff. 
  • Explore the website.Does the doctor work alone? Or is he or she part of a much larger practice? Does the doctor or his or her office provide a wide range of services on site?Are there lab facilities on site? Or will you need to go somewhere else to have labs done? Is there a mammogram machine, X-ray, or MRI on site?

It’s ok if the doctor’s practice doesn’t have any of these extras on site, as long as you have them available from other facilities very nearby.

  • Find out how long it takes to get an appointment. This can be a critical factor: A recent study found that in 15 large urban areas within the United States, it takes an average of 20.6 days to get an appointment with a family medicine doctor. 
    If the waiting period is long, find out how you can see the doctor quickly if you need care on short notice. Some doctors carve out a chunk of time during the week and reserve it for existing patients, or for telehealth visits. Find out if this works with your schedule, as well.
  • Schedule a consultation. Once you have a few potential PCPs in mind, schedule a consultation or a meet-and-greet appointment. This will give you an opportunity to ask questions and get a feel for their communication style and approach to care.
  • Visit the practice. Is the staff organized? Is the waiting room area clean and pleasant? Is your wait inordinately long? Is the staff pleasant and professional?
  • Have a conversation. Do they speak understandable English? Or will you struggle to understand each other?
  • Ask about communication. Ask how they like to communicate with patients. Are they available by phone? Are they responsive to emails? Do they use the web portal technology? Are you comfortable using it? Is there a mobile app?
  • How was your appointment? Did the doctor spend an appropriate amount of time with you? Did they listen well? Did they seem rushed or distracted? Did they take the time to read your medical history?

Many times, you can get a better overall healthcare experience by switching to a direct primary care (DPC) doctor, rather than going through a complicated and bloated insurance policy. With direct primary care, you skip the insurance middleman, and instead pay one low, flat, affordable monthly fee. In exchange, you get unlimited virtual and in-person appointments. See your doctor as often as you need to.

Direct primary care doctors don’t have to carry a lot of billing staff overhead, since they don’t have to chase down insurance companies to get paid. Instead, they can choose to have a much lower patient load. So instead of having a load of 2,000 to 3,000 patients, your direct primary care doctor may have just a few hundred.

The result is that they can see fewer patients each day. Consequently, they can spend much more face time with each patient.

Want to learn more? Click here to read our free patient guide on direct primary care!

Click here to schedule an appointment, or call 800-913-0172 to get started.    

To your health and wealth,

Wiley Long Signature

Wiley P. Long, III
President - HSA for America

Wiley Long Portrait

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Wiley Long HSA for America President

Wiley Long is President of HSA for America. He believes that consumers should have choice and price transparency, so they can make the best healthcare decisions for their needs. Read more about Wiley on his Bio page.

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