How to pick a PCP?
April 7, 2016 8:50 AM   Subscribe

I recently was laid off and signed up for an insurance plan under the federal marketplace. I picked the cheapest one, and now I have an HMO. Now I need to pick a PCP. Should I choose my OB/GYN? Or should I randomly pick an internist?

I need referrals for everything.

The only doctors I have seen over the last few years are my gynecologist (and have had gynecological surgery) and a sports medicine doctor.

I'm a relatively healthy, slightly overweight , runner/cyclist/hiker who has needed emergency care in the last 2 years. I also hope to not be on this plan very long, as I would really like to be employed.

Thanks in advance.
posted by hrj to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
IME your PCP needs to be an internist/GP/family doctor. This person will have the big picture about your health and will be able to recommend you to specialists.

I wouldn't randomly pick an internist; I would ask my OB/GYN (if I liked them, anyway) for suggestions, ask on FB or a local forum, etc. For me, I need someone who's personable, HAES-friendly, and excellent at tricky diagnoses. I also like the fact that my PCP is part of a large medical group, so she knows people in the other departments and they can communicate with each other.

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 8:56 AM on April 7, 2016

I should add -- this is a super-cheap, regional plan so the doctor-choice is small.

I'm in Austin, TX -- so if anyone has a recommendation on a particular doctor, I'd love to hear it.
posted by hrj at 9:20 AM on April 7, 2016

First step in situations like this is to ask friends if they have a doctor they like and then check and see if they take your insurance. But that would be getting super lucky.

Your health insurance's website will have a provider finder tool. Do a search for what wintersweet says: GP/internist/family doctor, check the little box that says something like "accepting new patients" and set the location threshold for something convenient to you. And search.

From that list, take ten or so names/practices that are in locations you can get to easily and google them one by one. Some practices have yelp review pages, some have websites, just take a look and see what comes up. You want to find five doctors you'd feel comfortable going to.

Call them one by one and confirm that they are still accepting new patients and still taking your insurance. (My dad likes to take this a step further by going down to the courthouse and looking up publicly available records of any malpractice claims against them.)

Once you find one you're happy with, call your insurance provider and get your PCP assignment squared away.

And you need to do this sooner rather than later because they'll pick one for you if you're not proactive about it.

Use the same process to find your gynecologist.
posted by phunniemee at 9:20 AM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also 'choose' is a funny word sometimes: make sure that your various options are actually taking new patients, and that new patient initial vists aren't 'Scheduling for some time in 2020, at this rate*'

*Actual quote that I have heard with my actual own ears
posted by eclectist at 9:22 AM on April 7, 2016

jinx, phunniemee.
posted by eclectist at 9:23 AM on April 7, 2016

I have had situations where I could pick my GYN as my PCP and she encouraged me to do so (before I ever asked, even, she said, "Oh, you can pick us for your primary if you want, my NP/PAs aren't afraid of sinus infections and stuff, and our lab is next door so we get fast turnaround. Lots of women prefer it to a GP.") and it was great. If you can, and you want to, and they're into it, you totally can.

(Planned Parenthood was actually my main doctor in college, at their encouragement as well, sinus infections and all. They were tons better than the Quack Shack, and cheaper, if a tiny bit farther away.)
posted by Lyn Never at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your ob/gyn is in a clinic with other doctors and you like the clinic, I would pick them. I've done it that way for years and when I do need to go in for anything else same day, I can see another doctor in the same practice if I can't see my regular one.
posted by soelo at 11:47 AM on April 7, 2016

When I have nothing to go on, I usually pick the one that's closest to me, that's accepting new patients.

Then go for an annual exam, for blood work, etc. That should be free with no co-pay. Meet the doc, see if you like him/her, and go from there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:46 PM on April 7, 2016

I just did this for my new HMO plan.

I went to the HMO's website and searched for PCPs near me who were accepting new patients. I then Googled each of them. A bunch of doctor-review sites popped up, sometimes a Yelp page. I looked for schooling (I'm a snob; I wanted someone with a residency and/or internship at an academic hospital, though that's rare for doctors practicing where I live). I definitely wanted someone who was Board-certified in their specialty. I didn't want someone who was described in reviews as being very into prescribing supplements that they sold in their own offices, but YMMV. I was slightly biased toward an MD rather than a DO, but I could have been swayed. I wanted someone who had neutral-to-good reviews; I know that a lot of doctors get crappy reviews for stupid reasons, and that some cult-like personalities can get great reviews for bad reasons, so a mix of mediocre to good reviews with no major red flags (like "keeps pressuring me to buy supplements from him") was fine. I ended up finding one MD who met all my requirements and one DO who had such stellar reviews that I was ok with what was missing. I signed up for the MD and am holding the DO in reserve in case I don't like the MD.

Basically, for me, it's: Quality/name-recognition of med school + quality/name-recognition of residency/internship + board certification (for me, required) + reviews (less important).

Also, you can almost always change PCPs if you meet with whomever you choose and decide you don't like them for any reason.
posted by lazuli at 7:44 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I have been on HMOs, I have been permitted to have my OBGYN as my primary care doctor. I'm sure every plan is different, but from your post it sounds like your current OBGYN is approved as a PCP under your current plan? If that is the case, I would just designate that person and not try to deal with forming a relationship with an additional doctor. If not, I would ask around and read online reviews, and pick someone convenient since, as you say, if you do end up wanting to see a specialist you want to be able to quickly and easily get in to see your PCP so as to get a referral.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:33 AM on April 8, 2016

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