Choosing a Primary Care Provider

A primary care provider (PCP) is usually the first point-of-entry for an individual into the health system and is responsible for assessing the health of patients and making the appropriate recommendations or referrals to promote health outcomes.

There are several different types of PCPs, including a general practitioner, physician assistant and nurse practitioner. Additionally, each PCP has a unique method of caring for his or her patients. For these reasons, it is important that every patient thinks about what they need in a PCP and choose one that is able to help them maintain optimal health.

Role of the Primary Care Provider

A PCP has a varied role in the healthcare system and may help patients by:

Encouraging healthy lifestyle choices
Providing preventative care
Identifying and managing medical conditions
Making referrals to specialist care when needed

Given the nature of primary care, the practitioner-patient relationship is likely to be ongoing, and the practitioner will become familiar with the patient’s unique situation over time. Therefore, it is essential that a high level of trust is formed, and the patient is able to choose the best practitioner from the beginning.

Factors to Consider

There are several important factors that should be considered when a patient is making the decision of which PCP to use. These may include:

Communication: friendly or formal
Focus: wellness and prevention or disease management
Treatment: conservative or aggressive approach
Involvement: authoritative decisions or patient involvement
Reputation: recommendations from other patients or health practitioners
Office: location, responsiveness of staff and convenience of opening hours
Billing model: public or private and acceptance of health insurance

Additionally, some patients may have a preference about the age, gender or ethnicity of the PCP due to religious, cultural or other beliefs, which can also have a significant impact on the choice of provider.

It is often useful for patients to gain trust in a health practitioner by getting a referral from an individual that they trust. This may include a recommendation from a friend, family member, another healthcare provider or advocacy group.

Visit the Care Provider

Patients may find it beneficial to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider to discuss their needs and how the PCP can cater to them. This is a type of interview to determine if the practitioner is a good fit for the patient and vice versa.

Each PCP has a particular style in the way they deliver care to their patients, and the only way a patient can understand this is to talk to them face-to-face and experience their methodology. This allows the patient to get a more complete understanding of whether the care provider is a good fit for their needs and make a suitable decision.

Changing Care Provider

There are many reasons that an individual may need to change their PCP, such as if they relocate, have changes in needs or they no longer feel the relationship is serving as well as it should.

When seeking out a new practitioner, it is important to spend time making the right decision and finding a partnership that will continue to be beneficial into the future. Continuity of care is helpful as the practitioner is able to develop a deeper understanding of the individual and make better decisions for their unique health.

By Yolanda Smith, B.Pharm.
Reviewed by Dr. Damien Jonas Wilson, MD