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Green and red flags when choosing a PCP

June 28, 2024 | Heather Shannon
a female physician wearing a white coat, green shirt and stethoscope smiles at a female patient who has her hair in a ponytail
Green flags in a primary care physician include being engaged in the conversation and actively listening without interruption, says UCI Health internal medicine specialist Dr. Jaclyn Leong.

The primary care physician (PCP) you choose is an important decision that can have an impact on your long-term health and the care you receive.

“Connecting with a new doctor is important,” says Dr. Jaclyn Leong, an internal medicine specialist at the UC Irvine Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute.

“Having a strong connection where you feel safe and comfortable sharing your needs is fundamental.”

Looking for a doctor is like looking for any other relationship: It takes time, research and legwork to find the one.

Finding the right office

The starting point of finding a PCP, says Leong, is by checking your insurance and listing five in-network physicians to meet.

Start with those who meet your basic logistical requirements and ensure they:

  • Are close to where you live or can do telehealth
  • Accept your insurance or their costs are within your budget
  • Are connected to a larger health system that shares notes and information to ensure that your care is coordinated

The physician’s support team is an important link to your care, Leong notes. Make sure that the medical office:

  • Has a kind and courteous team
  • Is accessible via phone or electronically
  • Handles requests promptly, such as medication refills and communicating messages to your doctor

Medical gaslighting

One term that is gaining awareness, says Leong, is medical gaslighting.

“I feel that looking for this in your provider is a good way of finding someone who fits.”

Signs your physician is gaslighting you include:

  • Dismissing or minimizing your symptoms
  • Not being engaged in the conversation
  • Not asking follow-up questions about your issues
  • Attempting to convince you that your problems are in your head

Physician green lights

Signs that you have found the right physician with whom you can build a long-term relationship include:

  • You feel comfortable sharing with them
  • They show empathy and actively listen
  • You aren’t interrupted
  • Your questions and concerns are fully addressed
  • You feel heard and understood
  • They order appropriate labs, diagnostics and referrals that are clearly explained
  • You leave feeling empowered, with clear next steps

Leong also says your physician should be willing to admit when they don’t know the answer and be open to second opinions.

Your physician should also be up to date on their training and the latest research, which is common for physicians at an academic medical center like UCI Medical Center.

“They may be involved with teaching or mentoring, or attending conferences,” Leong says.

Signs it’s not the right fit

The wrong physician can affect your ability to receive timely care or appropriate treatment. Leong says there are a few red flags to watch for when meeting a new physician:

  • You feel rushed during visits
  • You are continually interrupted and not heard
  • You are blamed for your symptoms or they are dismissed
  • You leave feeling belittled or that your provider has been condescending or rude
  • The front office is rude and unresponsive
  • Your physician does not follow up with you

If you are receiving care from a physician in private practice, ensure that there is a process for sharing information with other clinicians for seamless care.

“When notes, labs and imaging are not shared with other providers, it can be difficult getting everyone on the same page.”

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