How to Choose a Primary Care Doctor

Dineli Ahearn, MD is a pediatric hospitalist at Tufts Children's Hospital.Choosing a primary care physician can seem like a daunting task. How do you know who will take the best care of you? To answer some of the common questions that patients have, Dr. Dineli N. Ahearn, Director of Primary Care Innovation at Tufts Medical Center gave us some of her advice.

Q: Other than simply credentials, what should patients look for in a PCP?

A: It is very important to choose your PCP carefully and choose a PCP that is right for you. Most importantly, choose a PCP who is knowledgeable, but can also relate to you as a person. So many people feel rushed when they go to see their primary care doctor (or many other doctors). They feel like their doctors may not have enough time for them or may not have a focus on them and that’s unfortunate. When you see your doctor, you should feel like your doctor is listening to you and is focusing on your problems.

Q: How important are communication and advocacy?

A: I think the role of the PCP is to be the patient’s advocate, the patient’s guide, and to be an interpreter of the medical system. The PCP’s office needs to be the medical home where the patient can come and be guided to different specialists, and also have their preventive care taken care of. The patient should feel comfortable that they have a primary care physician who will do everything possible to keep them healthy. It is important to choose a primary care physician’s office that prioritizes effective communication strategies with the patient and other members of the healthcare team. Many primary care offices now offer patients portals (as we do here) where patients can communicate with their physician’s office online.

Q: Is it also good to consider the PCP’s network, should the patient ever need to see a specialist?

A: A patient should not only look for an individual practitioner, but a team of people that can act as their medical home. It is important to have an institution or network of providers that is available to them for any type of specialized care. It is also important to know that information is shared efficiently within this network.

Q: What should a patient do if they feel uncomfortable either contacting or being seen by their current PCP or their practice?

A: If you, as a patient, do not feel entirely comfortable accessing your physician or physician’s office for any problem or question, no matter how small it is, I would say it’s time for you to find a new primary care physician. If you are seeing a physician and you have a sense that they are not treating your condition appropriately, I would also say it’s time for you to find a new primary care physician. You need to be comfortable and have trust that your physician is treating you appropriately.

Q: Where can patients go to learn about PCPs?

A: If you have a question about your primary care physician’s training and background, you can always go to the Massachusetts Board of Medicine website, where every physician that is licensed to practice medicine is listed. You can find their credentials, where they trained, as well as any areas of specialty or subspecialty or interests that they may have.

Q: Do you think that Primary Care at Tufts Medical Center meets all of the criteria you have talked about?

A: Absolutely. If you get your primary care at Tufts Primary Care Boston, you can have your basic primary care needs addressed by an integrated team of diverse providers who can guide you through your medical home seamlessly. We have a team that can address preventive care, urgent care and chronic care management. We work to accommodate the busy schedules of our patients by having extended clinic hours Monday-Thursday 8 am-8 pm and Saturday 8 am-noon. We also strive to communicate with our patients and colleagues in an efficient manner using our patient portal and an integrated hospital information system. We have access to a broad range of world-class specialists at Tufts Medical Center that can be called upon to take care of you, if the need arises. And that to me is the perfect use of a medical home.