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Published on March 11, 2021

Four Things to Consider When Finding a Health Care Provider

A guide to understanding the different types of primary care providers.

Whether you’ve recently moved or just need a change in your health care, finding the right primary care provider is important. Here’s what to consider when choosing a provider to treat you and your family.

1. Determine which type of provider best suits your needs.

A primary care provider is the one you visit for most medical needs, including wellness visits, routine preventive screenings, chronic disease management and acute illnesses, such as earaches and the flu.

There are actually five types of doctors who provide primary care: pediatricians, who only see children; geriatricians, who see older adults, usually over 65; gynecologists, who focus on women’s health; internal medicine doctors, often called internists; and family medicine doctors.

Internal medicine doctors see male and female adult patients and treat a multitude of health complaints and concerns. Family medicine doctors do the same, but additionally treat children and take care of pregnant women.

Both types of doctors complete three years of residency training. One of the major differences between the two specialties is how those three years are spent. Internal medicine residency training is entirely on adult patients in a mix of hospital and outpatient settings. It also includes significant clinical experience in multiple internal medicine subspecialties such critical care, cardiology, endocrinology, rheumatology and infectious diseases.

Family medicine residency training is also a mix of hospital and outpatient training in adult medicine, but include rotations in the emergency department, obstetrics, pediatrics and surgery.

Both specialties tend to perform acute, chronic and wellness care. And both specialties have capabilities to perform similar procedures such as skin biopsies, joint injections, and skin tag removal, but it varies by provider. Family medicine doctors also often are trained in contraceptive procedures such as IUD placement or Nexplanon insertion for birth control.

In addition, many primary care offices are staffed by advanced practice providers (APPs), who can manage and treat a wide variety of common primary care complaints. Physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) can provide wonderful routine care.

In addition to acute and chronic care, advanced practice providers often focus on diet, exercise, stressors, lifestyle and how these affect a patient’s health.

Some women prefer to use their gynecologist to manage their primary care needs. But not all gynecologists want to do that. For example, a gynecologist may not be comfortable managing chronic diseases such as diabetes. A patient and provider should discuss options before beginning care.

2. Consider location.

When looking for a new primary care provider, think about convenience. This requires asking yourself some questions about how visiting the provider will fit into your everyday life.

Is it at a location that’s convenient for you to get to, either close to your work or close to your home? Do they have hours that work for you?”

Some practices have evening and weekend hours, which might be a bonus for your family.

3. Ask yourself if gender or age matter to you.

Of course, age and gender don’t determine someone’s abilities, but it’s understandable that people want to choose a provider that makes them the most comfortable.

Some people want to see providers who are the same gender as they are, and that’s ok. For example, sometimes women who need pelvic exams feel a bit more comfortable with a female doctor, although there are many wonderful male doctors who do those exams as well.

Then there’s the age question. Some people prefer older providers because they are more experienced. Others like younger providers who are fresh from their medical school training or perhaps closer to the patient’s age.

4. Remember that this could be a long-term relationship.

Choosing a provider is an important decision because ideally, you’ll connect with someone who can oversee your health for years. That long-term context is helpful in giving you the best care.

No matter what, it’s important to have a good relationship with your provider. It should be someone that you feel comfortable talking to. If at any point you don’t feel comfortable, you should find another provider.

Need a doctor? Find one near you.

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