The Centers for Disease Control states that approximately six in ten adults in the U.S. are living with a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The key to treating chronic disease is to detect it early; early detection and treatment usually lead to more favorable outcomes and better management of the disease. Preventative medicine, such as annual exams and receiving testing at the intervals recommended is a vital part of the early detection process.
Visiting the doctor regularly is an important aspect of maintaining good health. Your primary care physician (PCP) is your main point of contact when it comes to your healthcare. Your PCP will provide you with health information, and tips for disease prevention and health maintenance, and refer you to specialists if you need specialized care.
How often you need to see your PCP will depend on a number of different factors such as your age and overall health. Generally, you should get a physical or routine checkup once a year to make sure there are no major changes in your health. However, if you have a chronic condition or other health concerns, you may need to go to the doctor more frequently.
Whether you’ve just moved to Connecticut or have recently switched insurance plans, finding a new PCP in Connecticut can be a daunting task. While you want to find someone who is conveniently located and who accepts your insurance, it is also important to find a doctor who meets your health needs and with whom you feel comfortable. It can be hard to know how to find a PCP. Here are five tips for finding a PCP in Connecticut.
1. Learn the difference between primary care specialties
There are several primary care specialties you can choose from when looking for a PCP, including family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and geriatrics. OB/GYNs can also be primary care physicians for female patients.
Both family medicine doctors and internal medicine doctors (also known as internists) are common primary care physicians. One of the main differences between the two is that family medicine doctors work with children and adult patients, while internists usually only treat adult patients. Additionally, family medicine doctors receive more extensive training so they can treat most conditions and populations.
Pediatricians generally treat patients up to the age of 18, although the American Academy of Pediatrics discouraged establishing an upper limit for pediatric care in 2017. The Academy also recommended that the decision to continue receiving pediatric care be made by the patient—and their family, when appropriate—and the physician based on the patient’s physical and psychosocial needs.
Geriatricians receive additional training to treat older adults, particularly those aged 65 and older. However, there is no set age for when someone should start seeing a geriatric doctor and a patient might decide to start seeing one if they have an age-related condition such as osteoporosis or dementia.
OB/GYNs focus on pregnancy care, sexual and reproductive health, breast health, and women’s preventive health. Although they are qualified to act as PCPs for female patients, they may not cover all of the aspects of healthcare that a family medicine or internal medicine doctor would.
Finding a doctor who accepts Medicare or Medicaid can often feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. Although both are federal programs, doctors aren’t required to accept either insurance, and those who do may not be accepting new patients.
One way to find a doctor who accepts Medicare is to use Medicare.gov’s Care Compare tool. You can search by location, provider type, or physician name, or keyword. Medicaid programs vary by state and may have different names depending on the location. Connecticut’s Medicaid program is called Husky Health and its website also offers a physician search tool.
2. Check to see if the doctor is taking new patients
The last thing you want when you find a doctor you think you might like is to find out they are not accepting new patients. Before you do anything, you should visit the doctor or practice’s website, or call their office to see if the doctor is taking new patients. If not, you can ask if they can refer you to a doctor who is accepting new patients. With the shortage of healthcare workers, this can be more common than it once was.
3. Ask if the doctor is in your insurance network
Similar to finding out the doctor you want to see isn’t taking new patients, it’s important to make sure your doctor is in-network versus out-of-network. In-network doctors are contracted with your insurance company to accept discounted rates. Out-of-network doctors do not have a contract with your insurance company and can charge you full price for your healthcare visits. Your insurance provider should have a searchable list of doctors who are in the network on their website, or you can call the doctor’s office and ask.
It’s also worth noting that the type of insurance plan you have can make a difference. If you have a PPO (preferred provider organization) plan, you have out-of-network benefits. That means your insurance provider will pay for you to get care from a doctor who isn’t in your network, although PPOs tend to have higher monthly premiums for this reason. PPOs do not require you to have a primary care physician or get a referral before seeking care from another physician.
An HMO (health maintenance organization), on the other hand, typically has lower monthly premiums but does not provide out-of-network benefits. With an HMO, you need to have a primary care physician and all of your healthcare services will go through the PCP. Unless it’s an emergency, you’ll need to get a referral before seeing another healthcare professional.
4. Confirm board certification
Board certification is the highest level of accreditation within a medical specialty. It isn’t mandatory for doctors to be board certified; it’s an optional step that some physicians take during or after their residency. Board certification means they have taken written and oral examinations that verify the knowledge they acquired during their training. Verifying that your doctor is board certified can give you peace of mind that they are well-qualified in their specialty, but that doesn’t mean that a doctor who isn’t board certified is less qualified or won’t provide the same level of care.
Physicians usually have their board certifications listed in their bios on their practice’s website, but you can also check websites such as Certification Matters.
5. Look for same-day appointments
Sometimes a health event happens quickly and you need to get seen as soon as possible. While you can go to urgent care for less serious events, it shouldn’t be your main source of healthcare. Urgent care clinics are meant to supplement primary care, so they are often open longer than most doctors’ offices and are cheaper than the emergency room.
Calling your doctor’s office is the easiest way to find out if they offer same or next-day appointments. They can also state same-day appointment availability on their website. With the increase in telehealth services as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may even be able to schedule an appointment without leaving your home.
When you find a new primary care physician, you want to make sure they understand your health needs and that you feel comfortable with them. The doctor-patient relationship is a crucial component of healthcare, so it’s important to make sure you are both on the same page about your care. If you’re looking for a primary care physician, you can use PACT’s searchable directory to find one near you.
How to Find PCP in Connecticut? Start Here.
PACT Primary Care is Accepting New Patients!
Locations throughout Connecticut in Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, Orange, West Haven, and Wallingford.
To schedule an appointment, request an appointment online here or call a local center near you.