August 27, 2010
Dear Mayo Clinic:
How do I go about finding a primary care physician? I've read that it is important to have a good relationship with your doctor, but what if you haven't been to a doctor for years? A cold call seems strange considering it's someone I will be sharing personal information with.
Finding a primary care physician can be a challenge. Some groundwork is a good investment to find a doctor with whom you feel secure sharing personal information and also someone you are confident will meet your needs.
Primary care physicians are specifically trained to provide first-contact care for people, regardless of their medical concerns or needs. They can manage the vast majority of concerns and coordinate specialty care as needed.
You can think about your physician search in two phases. The first is focused on fundamentals: insurance, location, office hours and the physician's credentials. The second aspect focuses more on your comfort with the provider.
Basic research can be done via the Web or with some phone calls. Resources might include friends, your insurer, state medical associations, your local hospital and the doctor's office or clinic. Factors to consider are:
This information will help you hone the search to a few physicians who seem like they could meet your needs.
Then comes "comfort and communications" research. You really can't know if you'll feel comfortable with a doctor until you talk. I'm happy to meet with new patients to discuss how we would work together. I think you'd find other doctors are willing to have a similar "get to know you" visit.
Another approach is to schedule an appointment for a physical or an acute need. If you'd like extra time to talk, let the scheduler know. If communication goes well, you've found your primary care doctor. If not, schedule the next appointment with the next doctor on your list.
Now is a good time to consider how to find a primary care doctor. As health care reform legislation is implemented, there will be an increasing shift toward a primary care-based system. Already, there's a shortage of trained primary care physicians and that may worsen with increased demand.
— Gregory J. Anderson, M.D., Family Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.