Your primary care provider is the first in line when it comes to managing your health. These providers are the ones with whom you should be most familiar. They are whom you see most often, the providers who know your medical history and who are the most involved in your care. From annual wellness visits to nonemergency illnesses and injuries – they care for you.

Since they play such a huge role in your health care, there are some important things to look for when choosing a primary care physician. Dr. Aram Alexanian of Novant Health Lakeside Family Physicians in Huntersville, North Carolina, shared some key characteristics to keep in mind.

Types of primary care clinics

There are three main types of primary care clinics: internal medicine (for people ages 18 and older), pediatrics (for newborns up to age 18) and family medicine (for patients of all ages).

“It’s a patient’s preference to see an internal medicine physician or a family medicine provider,” Alexanian said. “A patient may want all family members to be seen by one provider, or a patient may choose to have the child seen by a pediatrician and select a different provider for his or her own care.”

The importance of relationship

“The most important thing to consider when choosing a provider is that you feel comfortable with him or her,” Alexanian said. “Open lines of communication between the patient and the provider are what matters.”

Alexanian noted it’s important for patients to feel like they have quality time with their provider during each visit. Providers want their patients to feel at ease bringing up uncomfortable topics to ensure questions are answered and that their patient receives the best possible care, he said.

Going digital

Because it’s still fairly new, patients may not consider whether their provider has access to an electronic health record. Alexanian and his practice use MyChart, which allows patients to log in and view their health records, email the provider and schedule appointments online.

“I think being active with an electronic health record is extremely important,” Alexanian said. “I love how it gives a patient direct access to his or her provider and makes it easier to get questions answered.”

“I’ll have a patient that forgets to ask a question during her visit, and when she gets home, she can send me an email,” he added. “It’s easy for me to respond and easy for a patient to stay informed.”

Alexanian noted that email, e-visits and video visits offer new options to connect with your primary care provider conveniently.

Staying connected

Another important piece Alexanian said to consider is access. When you first meet with your provider, you may want to ask the following questions:

  • Who will I see if you are not available? Who are the other providers at this clinic?
  • How are after-hours appointments or phone calls handled?
  • Where should I go for care when the clinic is not open?
  • What services do you offer at the clinic? Will I have to go elsewhere for labs or X-rays?

“As providers, we want to be efficient and effective,” Alexanian said. “Connecting with a patient and making sure we’re accessible is important.”

On the network

One last thing to ponder – and perhaps one of the most important points of consideration – is whether the provider you want to see is in your insurance network. Patients should check with their insurance company to make sure appointments with the provider they choose will be covered by their insurance.

“I always tell patients it doesn’t hurt to call our clinic and ask to verify they’re covered,” Alexanian said.