How to Find a Primary Care Physician

Newton-Wellesley Hospital's Nick Mascoli offers his advice.


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Primary care physicians (PCPs) are the cornerstones of most patients’ medical care. Finding the right one, however, is often easier said than done—especially when many of the best doctors aren’t accepting new patients, and your options are limited by insurance networks.

With open enrollment in full swing, we asked Nick Mascoli, medical director for primary care at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, how you should direct your quest for a PCP.

1. Ask around. 

This one may go without saying, but a first-person experience may be crucial when selecting a doctor. Ask a friend, family member, or coworker where he or she goes for care. A positive—or negative—response may help guide your own search.

And don’t be dismayed if your sister’s beloved doctor isn’t accepting new patients, Mascoli says. “You can call their practice and say, ‘I know Doctor X isn’t, but is there somebody else in your practice that is taking patients?'”

2. Dig a little deeper.

Many hospitals and practices post physician profiles online, and a good number of them include information about his or her clinical specialties, education, board certifications, and even personal interests. That sort of information will help you find a doctor who’s well-suited to your medical needs, Mascoli says, but it may also cement a good rapport.

“One of the things that I think helps patients is if they find something that they know about you, or if you have interests that you share with your patients,” he says. “It helps them build the relationship.”

3. Ask about affiliations. 

When you’re looking for a PCP, you’re likely not thinking about hospitalization. But if you’re looking into private practices or smaller hospitals, ask about referral networks and large hospital affiliations.

“We feel pretty confident that we can do almost anything that a patient needs to have done,” Mascoli says, “and we also feel very comfortable that for those things that we just can’t, we’ve got a good affiliation with two big academic hospitals, in [Brigham and Women’s Hospital] and [Massachusetts General Hospital].

4. But don’t assume you need a big-name hospital. 

It may be tempting to go straight for Mass General and other perennial rankings favorites, but Mascoli says most patients would be just fine at a smaller institution. In fact, many patients prioritize a convenient location and personal relationships over a lofty reputation.

That said, if a big name makes you feel more comfortable, there’s nothing wrong with factoring it into your decision. “The patient preference plays a big role,” Mascoli says.

5. Consider nurse practitioners and physician assistants. 

Most routine visits can be handled by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, Mascoli says. And choosing a practice that employs them often means you’ll have an easier time getting appointments and being seen promptly.

Mascoli says Newton-Wellesley—which just added eight PCPs—relies on nurse practitioners to keep the practice running smoothly. “We can probably take care of a larger group of patients because we’re leveraging the expertise of the doc, the nurse practitioner, and the care team, whereas in the past, really it was the doc trying to do everything,” he explains.

6. Look into a patient portal. 

It’s not always easy—in fact, it usually isn’t—to drag yourself to the doctor’s office for an in-person appointment. Having a secure patient portal, Mascoli notes, often eliminates unnecessary visits by allowing patients to ask quick questions or request prescription refills, for example, online.

“Sometimes it’s hard to get to an appointment,” he says. “Knowing that that’s something that not only does the practice have, but they encourage their patients to use, [can be important].”