Of Primary Importance

Most of us spend more time choosing a new car than we do choosing a primary care provider (PCP). Some of the process may be similar "“ asking friends and family, checking out makes and models on line "“ but the truth is probably closer to this: we haven't learned how to check out physicians as well as we do cars or appliances prior to our "purchase." Sometimes the choice of model may be dictated by our insurance coverage, but isn't our relationship with our primary care physician at least a bit more important than four-doors and fridges? McLaren can help with that.

Many health plans, including McLaren's have websites, directories, or customer service staffs who can help you select a PCP who is right for you. When you go to mclarenhealthplan.org, the first subheading is "Find a Provider." Click on the link, and you can search within ten or so different categories, including several insurance programs. The individual McLaren hospital websites have a "Find a Physician" function. Make a list, cut and paste names, numbers, locations, comments, and practice philosophies. Do as much homework as you would if you were buying your dream car. You can get also get referrals from state-level medical associations, nursing associations, and associations for physician assistants, and nurse practitioners.

The National Institutes of Health also provides a very useful algorithm for vetting through the PCP pool. Your PCP's role is to

  • Provide preventive care and teach healthy lifestyle choices
  • Identify and treat common medical conditions
  • Assess the urgency of your medical problems and direct you to the best place for that care
  • Make referrals to medical specialists when necessary

PCPs can fall into several categories, including family physician, internist, pediatrician, obstetrician/gynecologist, certified nurse practitioner, and physician assistant. Our needs may change as you age, and you may need all of these providers at some time during your life. You can begin the selection process by asking friends and family, but don't stop there. Consider your own preferences.

  • How easy is it to reach the provider? Does the provider use email?
  • Do you prefer a provider whose communication style is friendly and warm, or more formal?
  • Does your provider offer an online portal to your health information? (See mymclarenchart.org)
  • Do you prefer a provider focused on disease treatment, or wellness and prevention?
  • Does the provider have a conservative or aggressive approach to treatment?
  • Does the provider order a lot of tests?
  • Does the provider refer to other specialists frequently or infrequently?
  • What do colleagues and patients say about the provider?
  • Does the provider view your patient-doctor relationship as a true partnership?

When you do get closer to choosing your provider, you can actually schedule an appointment to "interview" him or her at no cost, or there may be a co-payment or other small fee. Since this may be the most important "purchase" you make in your life, it pays to put in a little research.

Good hunting and good health.