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How To Choose a Primary Care Physician

Updated on May 7, 2012

Choosing a doctor is sometimes as difficult as choosing an insurance plan. You were likely given a big, thick book of medical providers to choose from, and you know nothing about any of them. In order to narrow down your choice, the first question you should ask is whether you want a large medical group or a private physician’s office. There are pros and cons to both types of providers, and your choice should be based upon your family’s medical needs.


Choosing a physician that belongs to a large medical group is often more convenient than a physician in private practice, because large medical groups offer all types of services located in one general area.

Large medical groups usually have their own in-house lab service and radiology department, so driving all over town when your doctor orders tests usually isn’t necessary.

Specialists are sometimes as close as a few steps down the hallway, enabling physicians to engage in face-to-face conversation about a patient’s medical condition and same-day appointments with specialists is easier to obtain.

An urgent care facility is usually on the premises. This allows patients to avoid the emergency room and prevents larger out-of-pocket expenses.


Choosing a physician in a private practice usually won’t have any of these benefits. However, if a good doctor-patient relationship is high on your list of priorities then you are likely to prefer this type of provider, because the physician is running his own business and often concentrates on quality instead of quantity.

Physicians in a large medical group are employed by a corporation and, like most people, have been hired through an application and interview process. Sometimes, this causes physicians in large medical groups to be slightly lax in providing quality care, simply because the business is not their own. The private-practice physician is always concerned about keeping patients and obtaining new patients, ensuring customer service and satisfaction is always involved in patient care. Instead of “clocking out” promptly at 5:00, the physician in private practice will often continue working well past closing time everyday, reviewing charts, test results, and making phone calls to patients and even to other physicians in order to evaluate and discuss medical care.

Employees who work for a physician in a private practice have been chosen by the provider and not a long-line of managers or a separate entity that large-based providers often utilize to handle all aspects of hiring. You will usually find that employees hired directly by the physician in a small practice are more helpful and friendly, because the provider has complete control over the type of person who is representing their business, and the employees realize that they have a direct impact on the business, too. Employees often know who you are the moment you walk into the office; whereas, the large medical group utilizes a separate wing for check-in and are unrecognizable after a few visits, because the turn-over rate is often high.

If you or someone in your family is chronically ill, choosing between these two types of providers can be extremely difficult. The large medical group, as described above, has a long list of services and benefits; however, sometimes the lack of having a physician that is familiar with all aspects of your care and your condition falls very short of what should be considered standard. Physicians employed by large medical groups will sometimes limit their involvement in patient care to their scope of medicine and education. Relying on physicians that specialize in other areas of medicine to handle a chronically ill patient sometimes results in lack of coordination of care and could cause errors like medication contra-indications.

Physicians in private practice will often take extreme care and the extra time required to understand every aspect of your medical condition and situation, essentially, reducing the chances that there is an error.

In the middle of the road is the medical group where a few physicians in the same area of medicine have entered into business together, because they are unable to afford the costs of running a private practice and are turned off by the thought of factory-like large medical groups. This is sort of a middle-ground between private practice physicians and large medical groups. This type of provider is large enough to provide some additional services and still, usually, small enough for quality care and a fairly decent doctor-patient relationship.

After you have narrowed down your decision, there is another great hub, written by Susan M that outlines how to choose a provider based upon personal physician information that is accessible on the internet. The link to the hub is below.


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    • profile image

      Jen McDonough 5 years ago

      I like how you categorize medical providers in such a way that people can easily understand. It is direct to the point with its pros and cons. Having worked in administrative type roles in for both a prviate practice and corporate, it is true there are major differences. As a mom of a child who has a chronic medical condition, I can definitely see the differences you outlined here. Thank you!

      Live Beyond Awesome

      Jen McDonough

      Twitter: @TheJenMcDonough

    • Deni Edwards profile image

      Deni Edwards 7 years ago from california

      Years ago, I learned the hard way. I had a very stressful job and seemed to get migraines on the weekend. Because I had an hmo and a doctor with his own practice, I would spend the entire weekend in bed. I finally wised up and transferred to a large medical group with an urgent care.

      Thanks for reading!

    • tysanders profile image

      tysanders 7 years ago from Atlanta, Ga

      You provide a lot for the reader to think about in this hub. The provider directory is so long.... credentials and location are usually the two deciding factors for me. I never took the size of the practice into consideration until now.