Swipe Right for Your Next PCP (Primary Care Physician)

In the age of dating apps like Tinder, Hinge, and Bumble, we are used to swiping yes or no on a person in an instant. The internet has taught us to expect information quickly and in easily digestible concepts. Unfortunately, the tools we use to find medical professionals have not kept up. The internet has taught us to expect information quickly and in easily digestible concepts but there is no Hinge-equivalent to finding 

the perfect primary care doctor. Nevertheless, finding (and seeing) a primary care doctor is an important step in taking control of your health as a young adult. Just like dating apps, searching for a doctor requires a little internet stalking and the persistence to read through a lot of profiles. Although it won’t be as easy as swiping on Tinder, follow the four step process below to find the perfect doctor for you!

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Know Your Plan

The first step to finding a primary care doctor is understanding your health insurance plan. Most plans have geographic restrictions so  if you are working or going to school somewhere other than where your policy holder lives it may be more challenging to establish a primary care doctor. However, if you are like most Americans, you get insurance through your job and should be able to find a plan where you work and live.

Before looking for a doctor, have your insurance card out and log into your health insurance portal. Most insurance companies have online portals where you can see all kinds of information about your plan including a searchable database for “in network” doctors. Choosing an in network primary care physician is important to keep your costs low and reduce the administrative headache of prior authorizations and filing claims (i.e. Paperwork). Unfortunately, insurance portals aren’t always up to date and it’s a good idea to call a prospective doctor’s office to double check if their office is still accepting your insurance plan.

Identify What’s Important to You

Once you’ve begun searching for doctors on your health plan’s portal, it’s a good idea to reflect on what you want in a doctor. Is it important to you that your doctor represents parts of your identity? Whether that’s gender, race, ethnicity, or age, it’s important that you talk someone you feel you can connect with and feel comfortable disclosing personal information to. Many doctors now also have public profiles on their websites that explain their specific professional interests like birth control counseling, weight management, or preventative health.

Beyond your doctor’s attributes and obvious considerations like location (proximity to home or work), I recommend comparing both the kinds of services the office provides and the costs associated with them. Many practices now offer online portals that give patients the ability to renew prescriptions or directly message their doctor. These services can enhance your experience, but can also come with a price tag. Outside of your insurance deductible and copays, many offices now require an annual fee that covers these additional amenities. Fees can range anywhere from $50 to $200. No matter what you choose you can’t go wrong if you’ve taken some time to reflect and think about what’s important to you and what you’re willing to pay for it.

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The Search

There are a number of ways to search for a primary care doctor, but here is my preferred approach: first look at your insurance portal and narrow it down based on location, identity preferences, and the doctor’s availability for new patients. If you find a few you like, I recommend reading about them on their website. If you’ve decided you’re ready to swipe right, then check the reviews on websites like  ZocDoc and Yelp.

To be fair, almost every doctor I’ve ever searched for has a huge range of positive and negative reviews. Dissatisfied patients are generally more motivated to write a review and healthcare isn’t like a restaurant experience–it’s hard for it to be universally perfect for each consumer. However, there are a few red flags that I always look out for:

  • Long wait times are often inevitable with specialty doctors and at places like hospitals and urgent care facilities, but you should not be forced to wait for an hour before you see you primary care doctor. I would also look out for scheduling issues because the last thing you want is to have the flu or a UTI and have to wait three days to see your doctor.
  • Rude Office Staff can ruin even the best doctor. You interact with office staff to schedule appointments and deal with billing issues. They are also the gatekeepers to your doctor who can squeeze you in when you’re desperate for an appointment. Personally, I avoid any doctors with reviews of bad office staff!
  • Doctors who don’t listen or don’t make you feel heard are a waste of your time. Having a strong relationship with your primary care doctor is such an important step in becoming a healthcare inclined person. They are your main resource for illness, preventative health efforts, and any other health issues you may be facing. It’s important that when you make an appointment, your doctor is all ears.

Once you do your research, go with your gut and make a decision. If you’re considering a practice that has an annual fee, you can call and set up an appointment to meet with the doctor before committing to any kind of fee. It’s also a good idea to make an appointment to get a physical and meet your doctor before you get sick and have no choice but to see them. It’s important for your doctor to ask you certain introductory questions about your lifestyle, health, and medical history so they can treat you to the best of their ability.

Good Luck with your search — it might not be as easy as swiping but it’s definitely more important!

If you have other questions or concerns leave them in the comments below!

TLDR:

Finding a doctor to fit your needs takes energy and a little bit of time. Follow these steps:

  1. Know your health insurance plan
  2. Identify what’s important to you in a doctor
  3. Use your insurance company portal & review sites like Yelp & ZocDoc to search for doctors in your area. (watch out for long wait times, rude office staff, & doctors who don’t listen)
  4. Go with your gut and make a decision (and remember you can always meet them and change your mind!)

 

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