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The Complete Guide to Choosing a Primary Care Provider

Whether you’re new to primary care or just ready for a change, choosing your primary care provider (PCP) is one of the most important health care decisions you’ll make. Your relationship with a PCP will have a direct influence on your quality of care and overall health care outcomes. That’s why it’s important to take your time and make the right choice.

MyHealthKC makes it easier than ever to find the right primary care provider for you with our unique doctor-patient matching tool. But first, you have to figure out what you’re ultimately looking for in a PCP. We’ll walk you through some of the most important considerations when choosing a new PCP and how to use our tool to match with the right PCP for you.

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Family Practitioners

Family Practitioners

Family practitioners focus on every phase of life, from babies to adults. They’re an ideal choice if you’re looking for one doctor to care for your whole family. Family practitioners typically have their own practice outside of a hospital setting. An added benefit of going with a family practitioner is that you or your family can’t outgrow them.

Pediatricians

Pediatricians

Pediatricians specialize in caring for children ages birth to 18, but some people will continue seeing their pediatrician into their 20s. While children will eventually outgrow their pediatrician and have to switch to a different PCP, parents may prefer to send their children to someone who specializes in their stage of development, especially if their child has a condition that needs to be closely monitored.

Internists

Internists

Internal medicine doctors specialize in caring for adults. You can find them in primary care offices as well as in hospital settings. Internists are able to provide a broad spectrum of care, from basic care to more complex health issues. Because internists focus only on caring for adults and are trained both in general medicine and internal medicine subspecialties, their knowledge of adult medical issues is comprehensive and deep.

OB/GYNs

OB/GYNs

OB/GYNs specialize in women’s reproductive health, from childbearing age all the way through menopause. OB/GYNs provide the most specialized care for everything relating to a woman’s reproductive organs, like routine screenings, birth control, pregnancy, birth, and menopause. OB/GYNs are not intended to be the sole PCP on a woman’s health care team. Instead, they work alongside a woman’s general PCP to provide more specialized primary care.

What to look for

At a basic level, you and your primary care provider should be compatible. That means sharing similar views about health care and what you want out of the provider-patient relationship. For instance, do you want your PCP to act as an authority figure who tells you what you need to do or would you rather your PCP take a more collaborative approach and discuss the pros and cons of each option with you? Understanding what you’re looking for in a PCP will help you know when you’ve found the right one. And that will lead to a more productive relationship that will benefit your health in the long run.

Here are the most important things to consider as you research primary care providers in your area:
Is the Provider in-network?

This is probably a make-or-break piece of information for most patients seeking a PCP. Choosing a doctor in-network will help keep your health care costs down. Check with your insurance provider to discover which hospital systems and providers are considered in-network for your plan.

Does the Provider have the expertise you need?

Once you’ve determined which type of PCP you want to see (family doctor, internist, etc.), you can use that as an extra filter to help you narrow down your in-network providers. If you have a medical condition that requires ongoing management, you may want to interview PCPs to see how experienced they are at managing similar conditions.

Do the two of you share similar health care outlooks?

When it comes to health care, having similar views is an important factor in a compatible doctor-patient relationship. If you believe strongly in holistic health and avoid taking medication, you’ll want to find a PCP who supports that view and is willing to help you explore alternative treatment options. As part of the MyHealthKC matching survey, both patients and providers are asked a series of questions relating to their health care outlook. Our scientific algorithm uses the survey results to match patients with the most compatible providers in our network.

Does the Provider make you feel relaxed and comfortable?

Visiting a doctor’s office can be a stressful experience for some, especially when it comes to having private symptoms to discuss. Having a comfortable relationship with your PCP will make it easier to have an open conversation about your health and any symptoms you may be experiencing. The more you share with your PCP, the better they will be at diagnosing you and helping you reach your health goals.

One of the best indicators of a good provider-patient relationship is shared interests. Each provider profile on MyHealthKC includes a list of interests, so you can get to know your matches before booking an appointment.

Is the Provider's office in a reasonable location?

You may find a PCP who checks all of the boxes, but don’t forget to vet their location. While the ideal proximity comes down to personal preference, you’ll just want to make sure that you’re willing to travel that distance every time you make an appointment.

Choosing a Nurse Practitioner vs. a Medical Doctor

Many primary care providers carry the title of Nurse Practitioner (NP), not Medical Doctor (MD). NPs are trained, licensed health care clinicians who do many of the same things MDs do, just under a different title. This includes treating injuries and illnesses, diagnosing issues, writing prescriptions, providing preventive care, and managing a patient’s health conditions. Similar to MDs, NPs will specialize in an area of primary care, such as women’s health or pediatrics.

NPs are not the same as Registered Nurses (RNs). In addition to having two more years of school than an RN, NPs are licensed to do things RNs are not, such as write prescriptions. While MDs have more extensive and comprehensive training than NPs, both are well equipped to provide excellent primary care. Choosing between the two is mostly a matter of personal preference or availability.

Questions to Ask

While our doctor-patient matching tool can help you find a great fit (more than 90% of our matches are successful), the real test will be when you meet your provider face-to-face. One of the biggest things to pay attention to is communication style, so get the conversation started with some of these questions. There aren’t any right or wrong answers — all that matters is your provider is compatible with your personal preferences.

  • Do you have any experience with (a condition you may have)?
  • What is your communication style like?
  • Can I call you directly if I have an emergency, or how does your office handle emergencies?
  • How long have you been a primary care provider?
  • What is your favorite part about the provider-patient relationship?
  • Will we have time to discuss my health goals during our visits?
  • Will you help me with __________?
  • Am I able to contact you with non-emergency questions?
  • How long does it usually take to get an appointment with you?
  • Will you help me understand more about __________?
  • Holistic care is important to me. Will you work with me to take a natural approach? (Do we have the same values?)
Find Your Health Care Partner

You have all the tools you need to find the right primary care provider for you — now it’s time to narrow down your options. The best place to begin is by taking MyHealthKC’s doctor-patient matching survey. Just answer 14 simple questions about your health care needs and values, and MyHealthKC will use your results to match you with a list of providers in your area who are compatible with your answers.