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Alternative Names Return to topFamily doctor - how to choose one; Primary care provider - how to choose one; Doctor - how to choose a family doctor
Definition Return to top
A primary care provider (PCP) is a practitioner who sees people for 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.
Information Return to top
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.
References Return to top
Martin JC. The Future of Family Medicine: a collaborative project of the family medicine community. Ann Fam Med. 2004;2(1):S3-S32.
Carryer J, Gardner G, Dunn S, Gardner A. The core role of the nurse practitioner: practice, professionalism and clinical leadership. J Clin Nurs. 2007;16:1818-1825.
Staton FS, Bhosle MJ, Camacho FT, Feldman SR, Balkrishnan R. How PAs improve access to care for the underserved. JAAPA. 2007;20:32, 34, 36 passim.Update Date: 10/31/2007 Updated by: Robert Hurd, M.D., Professor of Endocrinology, Department of Biology, Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and physician in the Primary Care Clinic, Cincinnati Veterans Administration Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.