PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Tips to Select a Primary Care Doctor

Posted on Jun 30, 2011

Selecting a good primary care physician is one of the best things you can do for your health. Think of your primary care physician as a partner focused on keeping you healthy for life. This is the person who knows your personal health history and schedules routine screening tests that frequently help prevent and detect diseases such as heart attack, cancer and diabetes.

A primary care doctor is more than just the person you call when you feel ill or suffer an injury. He or she follows the latest research on disease risk factors and can tell you how to lower your individual risk. Like a good coach or teacher, a primary care doctor will encourage you to make healthful lifestyle changes, keep track of your preventive tests and treatments, and help you through illnesses. This person may also become the custodian of your health history and the doctor other doctors will call for information if you’re ever hospitalized for a serious medical condition.

Primary care doctors include family medicine physicians for patients of all ages, internal medicine physicians for adult patients, and pediatricians for children. So, you have many choices when it comes to picking a doctor.

As you search for a primary care physician, consider the following:

  • Ask your friends and family about the primary care doctors they see. It’s always good to ask for personal referrals to try to match styles and to have confidence you are going to a doctor with a reputation for high-quality, patient-focused care.
  • Make sure you feel comfortable with the doctor. You’ll want to develop a trusting, long-term doctor-patient relationship – and so do all good primary care doctors. Schedule an appointment to find out whether you work well together on a real medical concern. One of the best things you can do for your health is to establish a strong working partnership with your primary care doctor and his or her health-care team.
  • Find out whether the doctor uses electronic health records (EHRs). Personal electronic health records make it easier to share important health information quickly if you need to be seen at another medical facility. These secure online records also allow you to view test results conveniently, request prescription renewals and appointments, and receive automatic reminders when you’re due for immunizations and health-maintenance screening tests, and more.
  •  Consider where the doctor’s office is located. While most healthy adults only need a checkup every one to five years, it’s more convenient to have a doctor located close to your home or work.
  •  Ask how easy it is to get in to see the doctor. Some practices have a policy that enables patients to see a primary-care doctor the same day they call for an appointment. Some also allow patients to conveniently schedule appointments online and email their doctors directly with questions.

Selecting a good primary care physician is a very important step toward a more healthful lifestyle. I hope these tips make the process of finding the right doctor a little easier for you and your family.

Dr. Dominique Quincy is the department head of Family Medicine at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Her professional interests include preventive medicine, caring for families, and developing ways to improve care for patients.