Benefits of having a PCP
Think of your primary care provider (PCP) as your home base for all of your health and medical needs. Whether you visit a physical office or virtually, having an office where you’re familiar is important for staying on top of various physical exams, screening tests, immunizations, and more. Having a PCP who you know and trust is the foundation of taking proactive care of your long-term health.
You’ve got a choice when it comes to setting up a PCP for you and your loved ones. The medical field is wide and covers lots of different disciplines and approaches to looking after patients.
You want to start a relationship with a PCP that matches up with your overall values, will be a good psychological and emotional fit for you so that you can build a high level of trust over time, and who can give you the level of access and attention you want.
The most common types of PCP
- Family doctor (MD)
Family doctors can care for you (and, yes, your family members) throughout all of your life stages. Their practices are typically set up specifically to act as a PCP and so they specialize deeply in this type of care and how to build long-term doctor/patient relationships. Many will also closely follow patients who become pregnant and work with other specialists to guide families through a pregnancy.
IInternists have extensive medical training but focus on adult primary care. If you have children or are thinking of having children and want to have your whole family in the same practice, you might choose a family doctor to get care for all members of your family.
- Physician Assistant (PA) or Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Physician assistants work under the supervision of an MD— and can work in the role of a PCP, for example. They’re trained to do a lot of the same things as an MD, but ultimately work under their supervision and team up with them to provide high-quality care.
- Osteopathic Doctor (DO)
Doctors of osteopathic medicine have similar training to an MD but with an added holistic focus on the musculoskeletal system and how to use physical touch and manipulative treatments to diagnose and treat some conditions. DOs usually have a strong focus on overall wellness and disease prevention and many dedicate their practices to primary care.
Key things to think about when picking your PCP
If you have current insurance, you can guarantee that your PCP will accept yours by starting with your insurer’s list of preferred providers.
Most folks want it to be easy and convenient to see their PCP. Usually, this means someone who’s closeby. If you’re interested in a specialist or find someone you really like but who’s farther away, consider the time it will take to get to their office and if it fits into your schedule and lifestyle.
How easy is it to book an appointment? Do they have a website where you can schedule online or do you prefer to call someone? Do they reserve appointments for emergencies and what’s their usual delay to book a regular appointment?
What level of access do they offer? Can you easily schedule video consultations or answer by email if you’re not able to get to their office in person? This is especially important during COVID-19 based on your mobility and level of risk.
- Hospital affiliations
What hospitals and institutions are they partnered with? If they don’t have admitting privileges at the hospital you prefer or that’s closest to you, would you be willing to switch to their affiliated hospital, or would you rather find a PCP that can admit to a hospital you already have a preference for?
- Treatment philosophy
Different providers will approach how they practice in different ways. When you’re looking for the right one for you, take the time to ask them about their treatment philosophies, including their emphasis on proactive care and lifestyle interventions to promote health.