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Selecting a Primary Care Physician (PCP)

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Whether you need a new doctor because you've moved, your primary care physician has retired, or you're unhappy with the care your current primary care physician is providing, there are a number of factors to consider when you're looking for a primary care physician.




What is a Primary Care Physician?

In the past people relied on family doctors for everything from broken bones and the common cold to the delivery of babies. Family practitioners focus on the medical history of the entire family because they treated both the children and the parents. Instead of specializing in a specific area of medicine, PCPs help patients maintain overall health by focusing on preventive care. Check with your insurance company to see if you're required to select a PCP.

Which doctors qualify as Primary Care Physicians?

There are many specialties in medicine, but typically only three qualify as PCPs. In most cases only doctors with the following three specialties are considered PCPs:
Family Practice or General Practice: A family practitioner is qualified to care for the entire family. A family practitioner can be board-certified and have training in a variety of subjects including Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine and Psychiatry. Your family physician can not only treat current medical concerns as they come up, but will also guide your family's care to prevent and manage illness and disease. Take some time to research a family physician that will be right for you and your family.
Internal Medicine: An internist can diagnose and treat disease with medicine. An internist is not a surgeon.
Pediatrics: A pediatrician specializes in the overall well-being of children. Most pediatricians treat children from birth until adolescence.

How can you find a Primary Care Physician?

Choosing a doctor can be challenging... You might not want to just pick a name out of the phone book. We suggest you check the following resources:
Your health insurance company. Your health insurance company may have listings of doctors in their network who are accepting new patients. Choosing a PCP is often the first step in seeking treatment under an HMO or PPO plan. PCPs will handle any referrals to specialists you need.
Personal Referral. People often ask their friends, families and co-workers for referrals to Primary Care Physicians. If someone you respect and trust has a positive experience with a doctor, it's more likely you too will like that particular physician.
Current Physicians. If you are moving to a new area, you could ask your current physician to help you find a PCP in your new neighborhood.
Hospitals. It is common for hospitals to offer a referral service that can provide you with the names of staff doctors who meet certain criteria you may be seeking, such as specialty, gender, experience and location.

Why should you choose a Primary Care Physician?

Don't wait until you get sick to choose a PCP. Primary Care Physicians see their patients regularly, looking for symptoms a patient may not notice. Annual exams may help your PCP guide you toward healthy lifestyle habits that may decrease the likelihood that you'll need expensive specialty care. In most cases, a PCP will need to refer you to a specialist should you need one. PCPs can educate patients on healthy habits and catch early warning signs that may require further investigation. For example, a routine health exam may uncover conditions such as high blood pressure or even hormonal imbalances due to glandular problems. Health problems like these can go unnoticed by the patient for years resulting in serious chronic health issues. Developing a relationship with your Primary Care Physician can help prevent illnesses or keep them under control.