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6 Steps to Find a New Primary Care Physician

June 5th, 2023 | 5 min. read

By Melissa Gifford

Two patients meeting with new primary care physician.

You’ve made the decision. You’re going to find a new primary care doctor.

Maybe you’re looking because your long-time PCP is retiring soon.

Maybe you just moved to a new area and are looking to begin a new relationship.

Or maybe you’re one of the many people dissatisfied with either the level of care you are receiving or the experience.

Regardless of the exact reason, you’ve seen one of the signs that it’s time to find a new primary care physician, and you’re ready to find a solution.

As a concierge primary care practice, we talk to people every day who are looking for a new primary care physician.

How can you find a new primary care physician? Follow these 6 steps.

Male patient talking to male concierge doctor.

1. Consider which primary care model you are interested in.

There are several models to consider in primary care, several of which have popped up in recent years. If you’ve had the same PCP for decades, it’s likely some options weren’t even available the last time you were looking for a new physician.

Of course, there’s the traditional primary care model. That’s what most people are used to. While it’s the most common, if you’ve been dissatisfied with the care or experience you’ve received, it could be more because of the model than a particular physician.

In today’s healthcare system, traditional primary care physicians are forced to carry large patient panels – 2,000+ patients – to generate enough insurance reimbursements to keep the lights on.

It’s what leads to long waits for appointments or in the lobby or waiting room, and it’s what leads to impersonalized, rushed care. It’s just hard for doctors to have the time.

However, there are alternatives to traditional primary care.

  • Concierge medicine: A membership-based model where patients pay an annual fee to be a patient and doctors maintain much smaller panels (400-600). You get same-day or next-day appointments for acute care, little to no waiting at the office, 24/7 access to care, and much more.
  • Direct pay primary care: Similar to concierge medicine, but not quite the same. Some require a membership fee, some do not. All direct pay primary care practices do not accept insurance at all, which means you pay out of pocket for any medical care.
  • Urgent care: 29% of all primary care visits in the United States happen at urgent care clinics like Patient First or BetterMed. They can be open longer during the day than other practices, but it can also be difficult to establish a long-term relationship.
  • Online-only primary care: This option has developed as technology has advanced. You can now get a physician who is only available by smartphone, tablet, or computer. It can be highly convenient to talk to your physician from anywhere. However, most practices offer similar convenience through telehealth now anyway. And some medical issues are just better handled in person.

So, the first step is to consider the model. If you haven’t been able to find the right PCP, it might not be the doctor’s fault.

The model might actually be the root of your issue. And you don’t have to choose just one right away. If you’re open to alternative models, start exploring.

2. Think about what you are looking for in a physician.

Most primary care physicians are highly educated and well-trained. But they have some differences that may or may not play a role in your decision.

  • Internal medicine vs. family medicine: Internists only see adults. Family docs treat the whole family, from young children to the elderly.
  • M.D. vs. D.O.: A medical doctor (M.D.) is the most common – 9 out of 10 docs in the United States are medical doctors. But a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) is also an option. Both must attend accredited medical schools and are well-trained. A D.O. tends to focus on more holistic medicine though.
  • Male physician vs. female physician: Some people prefer a physician of their own gender. Some people don’t. It’s up to each individual patient if it matters to them.
  • Do they take your insurance? Whether we like it or not, this is one of the first things to do. It’s basically required in the U.S. healthcare system unless you decide to look at an alternative model like direct pay primary care. And even direct pay typically requires or recommends catastrophic coverage.

Maybe these differences factor into your decision, maybe they don’t. But by thinking about them in advance, you can start to narrow down your search for a specific physician.

3. Determine what you’re looking for from a practice.

Are you looking for a specific location – maybe close to home or close to work? Or are you willing to drive a little bit for the right doctor?

When is the office open? Do they offer early morning or late afternoon appointments?

Some offices are closed one day per week. Does that day align with your own schedule?

How long does it take to make an appointment? How long does it take the doctor to call you back? What’s the waiting room like?

These are the basics that will make accessing your care either easier or harder, and all these things may play a role in your decision.

Two young, female friends talking about new primary care physicians over coffee.

4. Ask the people you trust.

Nearly a third of Americans don't have a primary care physician, according to a 2023 report from the National Association of Community Health Centers. Some people have one they don’t really like.

Other people love their primary care physician. Take advantage of having these people in your life.

Referrals remain a reliable source of information, whether it’s from your family, friends, neighbors, or colleagues. At the very least, it can be a good starting point to generate a list of options. Or it could help you end your search quickly.

Talking to people you trust can be especially helpful if you’re considering one of the alternative primary care models – concierge medicine, direct pay primary care, urgent care, or online only.

They have firsthand experience of what that model is like and can be valuable in guiding you in the right direction.

Note: If not, there are several doctor directories and Top Doctor lists available, depending on where you are located. Google searches for “primary care near me” or, if you’re considering alternative models, “concierge medicine near me” can also be a good starting point.

5. Interview the physician.

You’ve found a potential new primary care physician. They seem to be the right kind of doctor at the right type of practice for you.

Request a meeting with them in advance. Some physicians may not have the time to meet with a potential new patient, which can be a telling sign.

Others do, and you can use that opportunity to gauge whether they are truly the right fit. If not, you can keep looking until you do find the right primary care physician for you.

Male primary care physician on phone with patient.

6. Request medical records.

Once you’ve selected your new primary care physician, it’s time to get the transition process going.

You want your new physician to have all the resources available to inform your care, so make sure to request that your former practice transfer your medical records to your new practice.

Some practices will do this for you, while others will require you to do so.

It can seem like an awkward ask of your former practice. But it’s standard protocol. Practices deal with it all the time, so don’t sweat it.

By this point, you should be ready to schedule your first appointment with your new primary care physician.

Next Steps: Understanding Concierge Medicine

If you’re looking for a new primary care physician, it may be worth it to consider concierge medicine.

But at this point, you probably have more questions than answers about concierge care.

Whether you’re wondering about the cost of concierge medicine, the pros and cons of concierge medicine, or why people choose concierge medicine, we’re here to help.

Want to get answers to all your questions about concierge medicine? Download our free Understanding Concierge Medicine ebook.

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Melissa Gifford