Finding Dr. Right

Five steps to picking a primary care provider
April 13, 2016

When it comes to picking a primary care provider, you’ve got lots of choices.

So how do you decide? By doing some homework and spending a little time up front, you can help make sure you’re choosing the PCP that’s right for you. Follow these five simple steps.

1. Start with your insurance. Not all providers will be covered (or covered equally) by your insurance company. Often you can go to your insurer’s website and enter your zip code to see a list of options, said Dr. Anneke Arellano, a family doctor at UCHealth Family Medicine clinic at Harmony Campus in Fort Collins.

2. Next, consider location. “Close to your home and easily accessible” are key, said  Arellano. If the provider’s office is hard for you to get to, you probably won’t go as often as you should. Also, check to make sure that appointment hours will work with your schedule.

3. Now look online. You can learn basic facts about providers — such as where they went to school, how many years of experience they have, and what their care philosophy is — by looking at their websites. You can also find patient reviews and more on sites like

4. Don’t forget to ask your friends and family. That PCP your friend or sibling loves? You might love him, too. “Most of my patients come from word-of-mouth,” said Victor Palomares, a physician assistant at UCHealth Family Medicine in north Loveland.

5. Finally, schedule meet-and-greets. Many (but not all) providers offer free 15-minute informational appointments. “You get to interview us,” Palomares said. “Bring a list of questions. Is the provider courteous? Is he or she in too much of a hurry? In those few minutes, you’ll know if you click or not.”

Dr. Brienne Loy, a family medicine doctor at UCHealth Family Medicine clinic in Fort Collins, agrees that meet-and-greets can be effective. “It gives patients an opportunity to see if they’re a good personality match with a provider and have a good rapport,” she said. “These visits also allow patients to be exposed to the entire office environment and the support staff, such as medical assistants and the front desk staff, who play integral parts in patient care.”

Once you’ve chosen a PCP, schedule your first medical appointment. The idea is to build a long-term, personal relationship with a provider so that he or she can really get to know you and your health challenges and goals. The stronger the relationship, the better and more tailored your care.

Alphabet Soup, PCP-style

Primary care providers (PCPs) come with different initials after their names. Here’s a decoding key.

D.O. = Doctor of Osteopathy. Some primary care physicians are D.O.s, which means they graduated from osteopathic medical schools.

M.D. = Medical Doctor. Most primary care physicians are M.D.s, which means they graduated from traditional medical schools and are trained in allopathic medicine.

N.P. = Nurse Practitioner. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who’ve gone on to complete an N.P. master’s degree. They are licensed to provide care, order diagnostic tests and prescribe most medications. NPs promote a holistic approach to health care focused on “caring” as opposed to “curing.”

P.A. = Physician Assistant. PAs hold master’s degrees and are licensed to provide care, order diagnostic tests, and prescribe most medications. They work under the supervision of a physician (M.D. or D.O.) and provide similar care to a physician.

Also, nurse practitioners and physician assistants are sometimes called “mid-level providers.”

And one more choice you’ll need to make: some PCPs are general practitioners, who care for adults; some are family practitioners, who care for adults and children; and some are doctors of internal medicine, or internists, who care for adults and are trained to manage complex and/or combined illnesses. Finally, geriatricians are PCPs who specialize in caring for older adults.

About the author

UCHealth is an innovative, nonprofit health system that delivers the highest quality medical care with an excellent patient experience. With 24,000 employees, UCHealth includes 12 acute-care full-service hospitals and hundreds of physicians across Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska. With University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus as its academic anchor and the only adult academic medical center in the region, UCHealth pushes the boundaries of medicine, providing advanced treatments and clinical trials and improving health through innovation.