How to choose a primary care provider you'll love

Finding a doctor can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips for finding a great one.

Research shows prevention is great medicine. Adults who regularly see a primary care provider have a 19 percent lower chance of dying prematurely and spend 33 percent less on health care compared to those who only see specialists.

“Choosing a primary care provider is about finding someone you can have a life-long relationship with,” says Kim DeRoche, MD, a family medicine physician at the Fairview clinic in New Brighton. “Finding someone you trust and can be comfortable with is really important.”

Beginning your search

Dr. DeRoche suggests starting at your insurance company’s website to find providers that are covered by your plan and in your area.

You’ll likely notice that there are different kinds of doctors that provide primary care. Pediatricians care for those under age 18, while internal medicine physicians (internists) specialize in adult primary care. Family practice and general practice physicians provide care for people of any age; family practice physicians may also have an additional specialty, such as obstetrics or geriatrics.

Ask friends, family, and coworkers about a great doctor in your area to get more details. Find out what makes the doctor great, how they diagnose problems and give advice, and how they would respect any personal beliefs you have about health and medicine.

Many Fairview providers record short videos so you can hear from the doctors directly. Use Fairview’s provider search tool to find a doctor by name, geographic area, or specialty to see an example.

“The videos give people a sense of the personality of the provider and if the provider is someone they can connect with or relate to,” Dr. DeRoche says. “They are a way that people find me.”  

Trying a new doctor

Once you’ve found a provider to try, you don’t have to wait until you’re sick to make an appointment.

A regular checkup for your preventive care is a good time for a first visit, because you’re well and can talk about your future, as opposed to the urgent needs you have when you’re sick. Check with your insurance company to learn the differences between a preventive care visit (which is typically covered at no cost to you) and a regular office visit that is subject to billing.

But there’s no bad time for a first appointment. Meeting a provider when you’re sick allows you to know exactly how you’ll be cared for, how they listen to you, and if they explain things in a way that’s easy to understand.

What to bring to a first appointment

If your first time meeting a provider is for a physical, Dr. DeRoche recommends preparing two lists to bring.

The first list should include your personal medical history, including the medications you take, and your family medical history. This gives the provider a sense of any conditions that may run in your family and what to look for in future appointments.

The second is a list of the questions you have about your health. This helps you both: You won’t forget to ask your most important questions and the provider learns what matters to you.  

“The lists help you voice all of your concerns and be heard,” Dr. DeRoche says. “You should feel validated in your concerns and see a clear path to how your concerns will be resolved by the provider.”

Deciding if they’re a good fit

After your first appointment, take a moment to decide whether you connected with the provider or not. You should feel that they listened to you, understood you, and gave you the information you needed — as you’d expect with any two-way dialogue. If that wasn’t your experience, make a change.
“We encourage you to try that first visit, and if it doesn’t work as well as you were hoping, you’re welcome to choose a new provider for the next visit,” Dr. DeRoche says. “It’s important that the relationship is right for you.”

Another factor to consider is your experience with the clinic staff. Were the front desk staff welcoming? Were the medical assistants and nurses helpful? You’ll likely interact with this whole care team as much as you will with the provider over the course of time, which makes those relationships just as important.

“Our staff is equally as helpful as the provider in terms of relaying health information or, in the case of our nurses, providing health advice,” says Dr. DeRoche. “It takes a village to raise a family, and it takes a care team to provide health care these days.”

Use Fairview’s provider search tool to find a doctor by name, geographic area, or specialty. You can make an appointment online from that provider’s page, or call 1-855-FAIRVIEW.

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