What Is a Primary Care Provider?

A primary care provider (PCP) is sometimes called a primary care physician. A PCP can be:

  • a doctor,
  • nurse practitioner,
  • physician assistant, or even
  • a care team (through a virtual primary care practice like CloseKnit).

How Do I Choose a PCP if I Don't Have One?

There are two reliable ways to start your search:

  1. Talk to your friends and family—personal recommendations can give you a good sense of whether you would be comfortable with a particular PCP.
  2. Use a health insurance company's provider directory—this is typically an online tool that helps you find a PCP in your area and within your health plan's network, such as CareFirst's  Find a Doctor  tool.

Want To Explore CareFirst's Find a Doctor Tool?

  • Click this link: Find a Doctor
  • Select the Continue as Guest option
  • Enter a city, state or ZIP to optimize your search
  • Select a network for the CareFirst plan you’re exploring or the one you currently have.
  • Under Browse by Category, click Primary Care and then All Primary Care

You will see a list of PCPs who are in network for CareFirst coverage. You'll also see:

  • PCP’s specialty (internal medicine, family practice, nurse practitioner, pediatrics)
  • whether they're accepting new patients,
  • what languages they speak,
  • where they went to medical school, and
  • their practice address and phone number.

Note: If you logged in as a CareFirst member, you would only get results for doctors that accept your particular CareFirst plan.

Do I Have To Choose a PCP?

If you have an HMO health plan, you will usually be required to choose a PCP. You may also need a referral (written notice) from your PCP to see any medical specialists other than an OB/GYN.

Otherwise, when it comes to receiving care, you have a choice:

  • You can receive care from any doctor you would like to see. (However, using in-network doctors will often reduce the amount you pay for care.)
  • Selecting a PCP is not mandatory—but it is highly recommended.

Why Is Choosing a PCP Important?

Establishing a relationship with a PCP is the best way to receive consistent, quality care and ensure your healthcare experience is the best it can be. They play a huge role in keeping you healthy now and in the long run.

Your PCP's office is your medical "home base." They lead a team of people who care about your unique needs and health goals. Your PCP:

  • Has online access to your medical records from all your doctors, including labs results and prescriptions
  • Ensures you get the care you need, when you need it
  • Reviews all your medications for any possible drug interactions or duplications
  • Develops a personalized plan of care for any health problems

Your PCP also helps you coordinate additional care you may need among other providers, such as a visit with a specialist, X-rays or lab work.

For the best healthcare experience, you'll want to choose a PCP who is:

  • Part of your health plan's network
  • Currently accepting new patients
  • Conveniently located
  • Fluent in your preferred language
  • Able to offer appointment times, like evenings or weekends, that work with your schedule