Choosing a doctor
Rewarding doctor-patient relationships don’t just happen overnight. They’re built on trust—a trust that may translate into better communication, emotional support, more accurate diagnoses and potentially lifesaving treatments. How, though, do you find that doctor?
Why do you need a primary care provider?
Some health plans require you to select a primary care provider (PCP), or sometimes called a primary care physician or doctor. Although some plans may not require you to choose a PCP, it’s a good idea to have one.
Your PCP can guide you through your care and build an in-depth knowledge of your health over time. When your doctor becomes familiar with your medical history, your habits and your personality, they are likely better positioned to guide you on the best path of care, monitor even the slightest changes in your health, and recognize red flags before they become serious issues.
Importance of a primary care doctor
Types of primary care providers
Depending on your situation, you may choose different primary care providers for each member of the family. Types of providers include:1
- Family medicine: Patient ages range from birth to 100+. Provide preventive and whole-person care. Board-certified in family medicine.
- Pediatricians: Patients range from newborns to 18 years old. Work in collaboration with parents and other health care providers. Board-certified in pediatric medicine.
- Internal medicine/internists: Patient ages range from 18-100+. They may focus on a specific health concern, helping you better manage your care. Board-certified in the broad field of internal medicine (conditions that affect the organs of the body), internists may have emphasis on subspecialties including cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, infectious disease, hematology, oncology, pulmonary disease, rheumatology and immunology.
- Geriatricians: Patient ages range from 60-100+. Their focus is on older adults and common medical conditions and concerns associated with aging. Board-certified in internal or family medicine with additional certification in geriatrics.
Whatever the reason for finding a new doctor, the initial search may feel intimidating. Below, you can find some tips to help simplify the process.
Is the provider in your plan network?
Before scheduling any appointment, check to see if the PCP is in your plan’s network. Most plans charge more if you see a PCP outside the network — and some won’t cover out-of-network care at all—so it’s important to double-check. If you’re not sure if a PCP is in your network, verify by calling the number on your health plan ID card.
Looking for a UnitedHealthcare network provider? Sign in to your health plan account to view a list of providers for UnitedHealthcare plans or view a general list of providers. Remember — before you choose a provider, confirm that they're in network for your specific plan.
Search for UnitedHealth Premium® physicians
UnitedHealthcare developed the UnitedHealth Premium® designation program to recognize physicians that meet quality and cost efficiency guidelines and help members make informed choices.
National standardized measures evaluate physicians for quality and local area benchmarks for cost efficiency across specialties and sub-specialties, including family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, cardiology and orthopedics.
You can find a doctor’s Premium designation in the UnitedHealthcare provider directory. Learn more about the UnitedHealth Premium® program.
How to choose your doctor
As with every service in our lives, it’s important to do some research. Read the provider’s website. Is their tone more formal or more casual? Check their online reputation. Do they have a social media presence? Read consumer reviews. (Although remember that reviews are just that—opinions. Unless a doctor receives a number of reviews, one or two won’t paint the whole picture.)
Ask for recommendations
Before asking for recommendations, decide what’s important to you. How far are you willing to drive? Do you want a clinic close to home or close to work? Does gender matter? Does age? Armed with this information, ask friends and family, medical specialists and other health professionals for personal referrals. Don’t just get a name—ask why people like that particular doctor. The “why” can tell you a lot.
Check board certification
Is the doctor board certified? Board certification is a sign of going above and beyond the state licensing requirements and receiving supervised in-practice training. Board certification is a barometer of a physician’s ongoing knowledge and dedication to the field.
To find a board certified family doctor, visit the American Board of Family Medicine online directory. To check if a physician you may be considering is board certified, visit the American Board of Medical Specialties’ Certification Matters database.
Call the office
Once you narrow down possible options, call the clinic and ask questions. First impressions matter. Pay attention to the office staff (are they helpful and friendly?) as well as how your questions are answered. Some common questions include:3 4
- Is the doctor taking new patients?
- How long does it take to get an appointment?
- If your doctor isn’t available, who will you see?
- Which hospital are they affiliated with?
- Does the doctor have special training?
- Do they offer any weekend or evening appointments?
- Can you message the doctor outside of clinic hours?
- Can you get lab work or X-rays done in the office?
Schedule an in-person meeting
Sometimes you can’t get a good read on a doctor until you’re in their office, interacting with them. You’ll be sharing personal health information—make sure you feel comfortable. Meet for an informal interview. Did they give you a chance to ask questions? Did they let you openly voice your concerns? Did you feel rushed? Did you feel safe and respected? Did it feel like it could become a true partnership?
Your primary care doctor may save you money (for example: fewer emergency room visits) and connect you with specialists. They can advocate on your behalf. Once you establish a relationship, they’re also more likely to recommend preventive screenings, checkups and tests.5
The ideal PCP may help ensure you get the care you need when you need it, potentially helping you live better, longer.