Five Things to Consider When Choosing Your Primary Care Physician

Although there are literally thousands of excellent primary care physicians within the Canopy Health network, members should be deliberate when choosing a doctor that best fits their needs.

Think of your primary care physician (PCP) as the CEO of your healthcare team. He or she oversees all your medical treatment, makes necessary referrals for follow-up treatment with specialists, and helps you build a treatment plan for your conditions. Because this role is so vital to your health and wellness, you need to find someone who is a good fit.

Every Canopy Health member is unique. Their medical histories, cultural preferences, communication styles, and scheduling needs are all different. Thankfully, our alliance comprises thousands of PCPs who can meet their diverse needs. Before selecting a PCP, you should weigh the factors that might impact your decision-making process.

1. Do You Have Specific Health Concerns That Require Special Attention?

If you’re in relatively good health, you might not worry about your PCP’s credentials and training. However, everyone can benefit from a skilled and experienced doctor. For example, a well-trained PCP might identify risk factors that make you prone to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and help you build a prevention program that reduces your risk through lifestyle changes and medication.

Before you choose a PCP, consider the physician’s:

  • Training and qualifications, including any board certifications they hold
  • Familiarity with your medical conditions, especially if they are rare or life-threatening
  • Specializations in pediatrics, geriatrics, or women’s health
  • Research credentials and whether they participate in clinical studies
  • Hospital privileges and whether they are cleared to practice at your preferred facilities

While you might be able to find some of this information online, don’t hesitate to ask your PCP these questions. This will also help you assess the doctor’s communication style and “bedside manner.”

2. Is the Primary Care Physician’s Office Easily Accessible?

It doesn’t matter how skilled and empathetic your PCP is if you are unable to schedule or make appointments. Many of our members have busy lives that require careful scheduling of work obligations, personal needs, and commuting time. If your PCP’s office is hard to get to or difficult to contact, you might face unnecessary complications and frustration. 

Ask yourself:

  • Is the PCP’s office close to my home or office?
  • Do they offer early morning, evening, or weekend appointments or services?
  • How quickly can you typically get in to see your PCP?
  • Can you email or text your PCP questions or concerns?
  • Can you schedule appointments through an online portal or use a telehealth platform?

Be realistic about your willingness to travel or take time off from work for medical appointments. If you’re not willing to drive to another county for care, pick a qualified physician that more easily fits into your lifestyle and schedule.

Canopy Health’s PCP network spans eight Bay Area counties* and includes:

3. Would You Benefit From Medical Providers Who Speak Your Preferred or Native Language?

The Bay Area is remarkably diverse. Our members come from numerous cultural and racial backgrounds and speak many languages. Unfortunately, these wonderful differences can sometimes lead to health inequities.

Studies show non-English speakers benefit from access to health professionals who speak their preferred language. While most medical offices offer translation services, you might find yourself talking to an interpreter over the phone at some locations. While some members are comfortable with telephone-based interpretation services, others need face-to-face interaction.

Physicians within Canopy Health’s alliance speak more than 60 languages, including Spanish, Chinese, and Tagalog. Other offices have onsite staff that is bilingual or multilingual. You can search our online physician directory for providers who speak your preferred language. Many of these providers are also culturally sensitive to our members’ beliefs and customs.

Studies also show that many people are most comfortable with physicians who reflect their cultural values. This can lead to more honest discussions, increased trust, and healthcare advice that is culturally appropriate. For example, some cultures favor homeopathic and naturopathic medications, which can negatively interact with traditional Western prescriptions. A culturally competent physician or nurse might ask a patient about their natural medications in a respectful way and educate them about the risks of mixing prescription medications with alternative treatments.

4. Are You More Comfortable with a Male, Female, or LGBT-Friendly Physician?

Your healthcare is deeply personal. If you’d prefer to seek treatment with a male or female physician, don’t hesitate to express your preference. Anxiety and discomfort can negatively impact your interactions with your PCP and impair their ability to diagnose and treat your medical conditions. 

Similarly, statistics show many LGBT patients face hostility or discrimination in healthcare facilities. Thankfully, Canopy Health’s alliance contains numerous provider groups and hospitals with a strong commitment to the LGBT community. For example, UCSF Health and John Muir Health are both recognized as “Leaders in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality.” Whether you need a PCP, an OB-GYN, or another specialist, Canopy Health’s alliance includes physicians who will respect your identity and family.

5. Is the Physician Within the Canopy Health Alliance?

In most circumstances, your health insurance will only cover providers within the Canopy Health alliance. If you chose an out-of-network PCP, you might face significant medical bills and denied coverage. If you’re concerned that a provider is out-of-network, contact your carrier partner directly. They can help you determine whether your PCP is within your health plan’s network. You can also search our physician directory