How to Choose a Primary Care Provider in San Diego

San Diegans are fortunate to live in a city with a strong medical community and a wide variety of exceptional healthcare options available to them. In fact, some of the best healthcare providers in the country are located right here in our fine city.

This creates a unique opportunity for San Diegans to have a great selection of excellent healthcare options close to home. However, with all of these top choices available, it also creates the question: How do I find the right primary care provider for me?


“With so many excellent healthcare choices available, it creates the question: How do I find the right primary care provider for me?”


What is a Primary Care Provider (PCP)?

Think of your primary care doctor as your medical home base. They serve as the first step to managing your overall health, treating you when you’re sick, and acting as a reference point for all of your medical needs. The relationship with your primary care provider will serve as the gateway to maintaining your general health and may provide access to specialists as you need them.

There are several different types of doctors that can serve as a primary care physician. These include doctors in family practice, internal medicine, or pediatrics.  Most HMOs (and some PPOs and EPOs) require participants to select a primary care physician upon enrollment, which has elevated the importance of choosing the right doctor from the beginning.

Read more about what services Primary Care Providers offer.


4 Essential Steps to Choosing Your Primary Care Doctor

There are many factors to consider when deciding which primary care doctor is best for you. These will vary in importance for different San Diegans, but the right combination of questions and priorities will lead you toward a physician that fits your needs.


1. Start with Your Insurance:

First, narrow your list down to in-network providers that are covered by your health insurance plan. You don’t want to go through the process of finding the perfect primary care doctor, only to be disappointed when they aren’t covered by your insurance.

If you were automatically matched to a PCP provider through Covered California or your private health insurance plan, you will be able to contact your health insurance company to change your primary care physician after receiving notification of your match in writing.

  • Go Online: Visit your insurance plan’s website and start with a list of doctors that are part of your plan. Most doctors have bios and links to their websites so that you can research them further.
  • Read Reviews: Once you’ve identified a doctor you would like to know more about, research them online. Start with review websites like Yelp! and Healthgrades. Yelp! has over 1,000 results for “primary care doctors” in San Diego which you can narrow down by neighborhood. Read reviews from other patients and get a feel for what you may like or dislike about the physician.
  • Ask for Referrals: Ask trusted friends and family who they recommend as a primary care provider. Most people have a strong opinion about whether they like a doctor and can tell you who they would recommend and who they would steer clear of. Then cross-check their recommendations against your list of available providers.
  • Ask Your Doctor: If you are planning a move to San Diego, ask your current doctor for recommendations. They may know of physicians that would be a good fit in your new neighborhood.


2. The Right Mix of Personality and Qualifications:

Your primary care provider needs to be someone you are comfortable having personal conversations with and that you trust with your care. Here are some important factors to consider.

  • Personality: Think about what type of personality is going to make you feel safe. Are they funny, serious, outgoing, reserved?
  • Qualifications: Then think about what types of qualifications are going to contribute to this trust. Are there particular certifications, education or experience that you value in a doctor?
  • Health Needs: Do you have specific health needs to consider when evaluating the certifications or experience of a provider? For example, if you have diabetes, you may place more value on a primary care physician who has experience treating people with diabetes or an emphasis in endocrinology.
  • Gender: The gender of your primary care provider is another factor to consider when looking for the best doctor for you. You may be more comfortable with one gender over another and feel that this carries more weight than specific qualifications.
  • Language: Does your primary care provider and their office staff need to speak Spanish or any other particular language in order to effectively communicate with you? If so, you will need to find a provider that supports this language.


“Your relationship with your primary care doctor is a long-term one filled with trust and empathy, so it is important that your personalities fit in addition to their qualifications.”

3. Location, Location, Location:

Convenience is a big factor in getting to the doctor when you need to, especially in a city like San Diego that reaches into many suburban neighborhoods. Think about what part of town you would like your doctor to be located in and how accessible they need to be.

  • Do you prefer your doctor to be close to work, home, or your child’s school or daycare?
  • Are they in an accessible part of town for you, or are you going to get stuck in traffic every time you go?
  • Is there free parking or do you have to pay to park? Is the parking convenient or far away?
  • Is their office accessible by public transportation such as the MTS bus system or the Trolley? Can you take advantage of San Diego’s beautiful weather and walk to their office?
  • Also consider where the physician refers lab work and X-rays. Are they done in the office or will you need to go to another location?


4. The Patient Experience:

Your experience with the PCP office staff and scheduling/follow-up systems is almost as important as the primary care physician herself. Visiting your doctor should be an easy process that makes you feel comfortable from start to finish. Here are a few important considerations when choosing your doctor:

  • Visit the provider’s office and make sure you are at ease with the atmosphere and the staff on duty. You can also call and schedule an appointment to test out how courteous and helpful they are over the phone.
  • Consider how far in advance you need to schedule an appointment to see your doctor. Can they see you right away for urgent needs? If the doctor is booked, is there someone else in their practice who can see you?
  • Find out what the typical wait time is to be seen for your appointment. Do you have to wait two hours, or is the doctor typically prompt?
  • Office hours are also an important consideration. Pick a PCP whose office hours fit into your scheduling needs. Do you need a doctor who is available after work in the evenings or on Saturdays? Does the physician respond to emails after hours?
  • Find out which hospital the physician works with to admit patients and determine if that is a location you are comfortable with. There are 25 hospitals in San Diego, a few of which hold the top spot in the national rankings. Do you have needs that any of these hospitals specialize in?


Your Peace of Mind

When you find a primary care provider that checks all your boxes, they quickly become someone you rely on long-term to support your health. They can guide you through difficult decisions and give you peace of mind that your health needs are covered.

San Diego is considered a leader in health innovation and high-quality primary care. We are fortunate to not only live in a beautiful city, but to have access to some of the best physicians and healthcare facilities in the country to keep us healthy. Whether you live in North Park, Mira Mesa, Del Mar, Chula Vista or Escondido, there will be a great primary care provider nearby to meet your needs.


Check out our list of highly qualified, caring doctors in San Diego.

Find a PCP Near You


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