How to choose a primary care doctor: A guide to finding a doctor near you

23 February 2023

Regular visits to a primary care doctor for preventative care like wellness screenings and annual physical exams increase your chances for a longer, healthier life. But choosing a primary care doctor isn’t always easy. If you don’t know where to start, we’re sharing a few tips for choosing the right doctor so you can invest (or reinvest) in your everyday health.

Ask people you trust

One easy way to start looking for a primary care doctor that fits is to ask your family and friends about their providers. What do they like about their primary care providers? What keeps them coming back? What do they wish their physician did differently?

Following a recommendation from someone you trust is a great way to start identifying a highly skilled professional, but it’s important to remember that every person is different. A primary care doctor who fits for one friend or family member may not necessarily be the right fit for you.

Know the difference between in-network and out-of-network

You may save money by finding an “in-network” doctor. Typically, health insurance plans have negotiated special rates with specific doctors and practices in your area. By visiting these in-network doctors on your health plan, you’ll be saving on out-of-pocket costs. Often you’ll find “out-of-network” charges if you visit a doctor outside of your health plan’s coverage. Make sure to visit your health plan’s website. For convenience, health insurance companies usually have online directories to find in-network doctors in your area.

Learn who all can provide primary care

The term “primary care provider” can refer to several types of practitioners. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common for patients to seek primary care from other healthcare professionals besides primary care doctors. These include:

  • Physician Assistants (PAs): healthcare professionals who are usually specialized in one area of care and can even diagnose ailments and administer medication
  • Nurse Practitioners: healthcare professionals who have completed graduate-level requirements to become a registered nurse
  • Clinical Nurse Specialists: advance practice registered nurses who may also work in management positions

These professionals can offer you the same primary care and may come with a smaller price tag—it’s worth asking around for any and all healthcare professionals who provide primary care.

Consider your location

Finding the right primary care doctor also means routinely visiting that physician. Travel costs add up, and if you and your primary care doctor decide regular visits are necessary, that can get costly. To save on travel expenses, start your search for a doctor close to home or consider finding a doctor that offers virtual telehealth visits.

The five most common primary care doctor specialties

  • Family Practitioner—certified to care for people of all ages
  • Internist—specialized in internal medicine, which includes primary care
  • Geriatrician—specialized in treating elderly patients
  • Pediatrician—certified to provide care to children before they turn 18
  • Gynecologist—specialized in gynecological medicine


Identify what’s important to you in a primary care doctor

You want a physician you can trust, and there is so much that can affect that trust. Carefully consider your priorities when looking for a primary care doctor. Here are just a few things to consider:

  • Sex and gender considerations—You may feel more comfortable with a doctor who is the same gender as you and who more personally understands any issues you might have. Or you may want to seek out a doctor with specific experience, such as treating transgender patients
  • Preexisting conditions—If you have certain chronic conditions, you may want to find a doctor with extensive experience treating those conditions
  • Family members—You may require primary care for family members like children or a spouse and prefer to all have the same doctor
  • Race, language or other shared background—You may find it easier to confide in your doctor and adhere to their recommendations if you share a racial or ethnic background with them. If you are multilingual or have family members who do not speak English, you may also look for a physician that speaks your preferred language
  • Qualifications—You can easily check a provider’s qualifications and certifications online. This guarantees your provider has passed important exams in internal medicine and is keeping up with the latest developments in their field
  • Coordinated Care Team – Primary care providers work with a variety of specialists to help coordinate more holistic care for people with chronic conditions. If you have a chronic condition, you may want to find a primary care provider that works with specialists that help you manage your condition

Make a visit

Once you’ve asked around, considered your priorities and found a physician that seems like a good fit, the last thing to do is to make that first appointment. Pay close attention to the details:

  • Is there a pleasant, friendly environment?
  • Was making the appointment and checking in easy and convenient?
  • Are nurses and office staff helpful and courteous?
  • Do you feel comfortable with the physician? Do they seem like someone you can trust?

Getting routine primary care, including recommended screenings based on age and gender, is an important part of preventive medicine. Staying on top of your well-being with a skilled primary care provider helps increase your chances of living a long and healthy life. Take a little time to find the right one for you and then begin really investing in your overall health.

Learn more about what you can do today to improve your health by visiting our Count On You site.