A primary care provider (PCP) is a health care practitioner who sees people that have common medical problems. This person is usually a doctor, but may be a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner. Your PCP is often involved in your care for a long time, so it is important to select someone with whom you will work well.
A PCP is your main health care provider in non-emergency situations. Your PCP's role is to:
Primary care is usually provided in an outpatient setting. However, if you are admitted to the hospital, your PCP may assist in or direct your care, depending on the circumstances.
Having a primary care provider can give you a trusting, ongoing relationship with one medical professional over time. You can choose from several different types of PCPs:
Many insurance plans limit the providers you can choose from, or provide financial incentives for you to select from a specific list of providers. Make sure you know what your insurance covers before starting to narrow down your options.
When choosing a PCP, also consider the following:
You can get referrals from:
Another option is to request an appointment to "interview" a potential provider. There may be no cost to do this, or you may be charged a co-payment or other small fee. Some practices, particularly pediatric practice groups, may have an open house where you have an opportunity to meet several of the providers in that particular group.
If you do not currently have a primary health care provider, and a health care problem arises, it is usually best to seek non-emergency care from an urgent care center rather than a hospital emergency room. This will often save you time and money. In recent years, many emergency rooms have expanded their services to include reasonably priced urgent care within the emergency room itself or an adjoining area. To find out, call the hospital first.
Family doctor - how to choose one; Primary care provider - how to choose one; Doctor - how to choose a family doctor
Peikes D, Zutshi A, Genevro J, Smith K, Parchman M, Meyers D. Early evidence on the Patient-Centered Medical Home. AHRQ Publication No. 12-0020-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. February 2012.
Rohrer JE, Angstman KB, Garrison GM, Pecina JL, and Maxson JA. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are complements to family medicine physicians. Population Health Management. 2013;16:ahead of print. doi:10.1089/pop.2012.0092. Accessed 8/10/13.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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