One of the most crucial parts of managing your health is establishing a primary care provider. Think of them as your starting point for any medical concerns or questions.
Your source for primary care could be a doctor, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist or physician assistant — but what’s key is that you build a relationship of trust.
Outside of friends and family, there are few connections as impactful to our lives than that with our primary care provider. That’s because it’s typically a bond built over time, with a practitioner who knows your complete health history and serves as your go-to for everything from preventive care to managing lifelong ailments.
For starters, there are fewer and fewer available — especially in rural areas of the country. But it’s also a growing trend among young people (particularly Millennials and Gen Zers) to forgo establishing primary care altogether and instead rely on trips to urgent care when needs arise.
This is a problem because people postpone seeking care for health concerns that don’t feel immediately necessary. And delaying routine preventive care can have a lasting, negative impact.
The best approach to long-term health is establishing a primary care provider. That way, you have the same trusted point of contact for regular checkups, treatment when you’re sick or injured, and managing chronic conditions throughout your healthcare journey.
Finding the right primary care provider for you is the first step, and it can be a lot like dating. There’s nothing wrong with settling down with the first person who comes along, but it’s a good idea to explore your options.
The trick is finding Dr. Right.
So, here are the 10 most important questions to ask when you’re searching for your primary care provider:
Are they in my insurance network?
While you’re at it, make sure they (or their partners) can see you at your hospital of choice.
What happens outside of normal business hours?
If you get sick or have a question after hours, it’s good to know what options you have to get in touch with someone for help.
How easy is it to make an appointment?
Find out if you have the option to schedule online or if you need to call and talk with someone in the office. Look for the easiest and most accessible options.
Who answers the phone when I call the office?
If there’s a receptionist, pay attention to whether they’re actually in the office. Also, note whether you can talk directly to your provider or someone on their team when you call.
How long does it take the doctor to get me in?
Health issues have a way of surprising all of us. The last thing you want is to be stuck waiting several weeks before you can get in for a visit. Ask what the average wait time is for last-minute appointments.
Will I always see my provider, or will I occasionally see a different clinician within the practice?
Either can help you, but you’ll just want to know how it works. There might be cases where you prefer to speak with your designated clinician.
What certifications do they have?
Look for board certification by the American Nurses Credential Center, American Association of Nurse Practitioners, National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, or American Board of Medical Specialties in family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, or OB-GYN.
Do they share my values on sensitive subjects like sex, pregnancy, family planning, and sexual orientation?
Don't be shy to ask these questions. It’s important to establish an honest, trusting relationship.
How do they handle chronic medical conditions?
If you have chronic medical conditions, note whether they manage these directly or refer patients to specialists.
What are my provider’s hobbies or interests?
This might seem odd, but they enjoy talking about this sort of thing — they’re people too! It will also give you some topics of conversation to start building a healthy, long-term relationship.