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    Choosing a Primary Care Physician (PCP)
    Sutter Children's Center, Sacramento

    Your primary care physician is the doctor you will turn to for most of your healthcare needs. Managed care insurance plans, such as HMOs, require you to choose a primary care physician to serve as your access point into the greater healthcare system of specialists. As your most important medical care provider, and one you ideally will see for many years, it’s important to choose a primary care doctor you are confident will handle your medical needs and with whom you feel comfortable enough to be completely open. The more information your doctor has about you - including family, mental, and emotional, as well as physical issues - the better able he or she will be to provide the best care.

    Primary care physicians can include family practice specialists (all ages), internists (adults), obstetricians/gynecologists (women), and pediatricians (children). If your family’s needs span more than one group, decide if you want just one doctor for all family members or separate doctors for different patients.

    Though primary care physicians attend to the whole body, including wellness and preventive care, they often have areas of focus, such as women’s health or adolescent care. When you access our physician locator, the section entitled "Professional Interests/Specialties" will tell you if a physician has a particular interest area.

    Through the more than 700 physicians affiliated with Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region and its hospitals, you have a wide selection of doctors located close to your home or work.

    Primary Care Physician Training, Certification and Licensing | back to top
    Primary care physician is a broad term that covers specialists in family practice, internal, or pediatric medicine, who can serve as your doctor for routine medical needs and preventive care.

    In some instances, an ob/gyn physician can also elect to serve the role of primary care provider. Ask your ob/gyn if he or she is also a primary care provider or call our 24-hour referral hotline at 1 (800) 4-SUTTER (478-8837) to find an ob/gyn in your area also accepting patients for primary care.

    Family practice specialists complete college, medical school and a three-year residency program with rotations into all major medical areas. After completion of training, doctors can take an exam to be certified by the American Board of Family Practice. They must verify they have stayed current through completing at least 300 hours of continuing education and taking a recertification exam every seven years.

    Internal medicine specialists, also called internists, complete college, medical school and a three-year residency program featuring rotations through major medical areas, followed by a certification exam by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Internal medicine doctors may also complete training in subspecialty areas such as cardiology, dermatology, critical care, and others. Internists participate in a program of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) over a 10-year period and take an exam for recertification.

    Obstetrician/gynecologists, or ob/gyns, must complete college, medical school and an additional four-year residency training that enables them to treat all aspects of a woman’s unique health concerns. After training, ob/gyns take a written and oral exam administered by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology to become board certified. Board certification may be kept up to date through a continuous study program or through a recertification exam taken every six years.

    Pediatricians complete college, medical school and an additional three-year residency training that enable them to treat the special needs of children from birth through adolescence. They then take a comprehensive written exam to become certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. Board certification lasts seven years before the test must be taken again.

    The State of California also requires all doctors to be licensed to practice and to complete 25 hours of accredited continuing education each year.

    Our physician locator gives you the educational background and certification of each physician affiliated with Sutter Health. You can also verify certification through the board related to his or her specialty. To verify certification of internal medicine specialists, visit and visit to verify certification in pediatric medicine.

    How to Find a Primary Care Physician | back to top
    If you are part of an HMO insurance plan and do not select a doctor as your primary care physician, you will often be assigned to one. You can choose a different primary care doctor at any time and may want to take some time to talk to a few doctors before choosing.

    The most common way to find a primary care physician is to ask friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances for recommendations. Make sure the needs of those you ask are similar to your own, though, as a doctor who is ideal for one type of patient may not be right for you.

    A pediatrician may serve as your child’s primary care doctor, and some obstetrician/gynecologists (ob/gyn) may also elect to provide primary care to women. If you are interest, ask your ob/gyn if he or she also provides primary care services.

    Consider any special healthcare issues that you have. If you are diabetic, have heart disease, are dealing with menopause, or have other special concerns, you may want to use our physician locator to find a doctor whose professional interests correspond with your needs.

    If you have switched insurance plans, decided to find a primary care physician, or moved to a new neighborhood and don’t know who to ask, you can access our physician locator tool to find a primary care physician close to your home or work. We also offer a 24-hour referral hotline available seven days a week by calling 1 (800) 4-SUTTER [1 (800) 478-8837].

    What to Ask Prospective Primary Care Physicians | back to top
    Use your first visit with a primary care physician as a get-acquainted session to discuss your particular health concerns, get a feel for how the doctor handles your questions and what to find out what treatments the doctor routinely suggests for your issues. It’s important that you feel your questions are listened to and answered to your satisfaction, and to determine if you and your doctor share similar views on treatments.
    • Background and credentials - Our physician locator tool lets you look up Sutter-affiliated physicians by name to see a brief biographical sketch, including education, board certification, hospital privileges, special interests and other helpful information. If you have questions, you can also check the status of a physician’s license online at In addition, you might want to ask how long the physician has been in practice in your area and how the doctor stays on top of the latest medical developments.
    • Specific issues and personal concerns - Since every person has specific health issues, which can range from simple preventive care to maintain good health to treating chronic conditions such as heart disease or asthma, you will want to explore these issues thoroughly with your doctor. If you’ve been under a doctor’s care for a condition, find out if this doctor is in agreement with the care or if he or she has other recommendations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
    • Routine care - Since your primary care physician is the doctor who will help you maintain optimal health, you’ll want to find out what the routine for care will be for a patient with your medical history. Does the doctor perform complete physical exams, and what does that include? If you are a woman, you will also want to find out if the doctor performs pelvic exams and PAP smears and refers you for a mammogram, and on what schedule. If you have children that you are bringing to the doctor as well, you’ll want to ask about immunizations and well-child checkups. Ask about other suggested testing, such as prostate exams and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests for men, colonoscopies or sigmoidoscopies, stool testing for colon cancer, bone mass testing for women, and any others you would like to know about.
    • Office hours and urgent care - Your convenience is also important, so you’ll need to know how long it takes to get an appointment for routine care and acute needs, and how long you will have to wait to see the doctor once you arrive for your appointment. Ask about standard office hours and if there are extended hours for routine and urgent care appointments.
    • In case of emergency - If you are injured or become acutely ill, what procedure does the doctor recommend? When should he or she be informed if you must go to an emergency room?
    • Getting questions answered - You are likely to have questions that do not require an appointment. Find out what the procedure is to get your questions answered. Will the doctor call you back or will a nurse handle some questions?
    • Referral to specialists - While primary care physicians cover prevention and treatment for the entire body, you may want to see a specialist for certain conditions. Find out how the referral process works and how likely the doctor is to refer you and for what conditions.
    • Prescriptions - Each office has a procedure for getting first-time and refill prescriptions. Ask how you go about getting prescriptions and if you contact the doctor’s office or your pharmacy for refills.
    • If the doctor is on vacation - If your doctor is part of a group practice, his or her appointments should be covered by another one of the practice physicians. If your doctor is in independent practice, you will want to find out who will see you if your doctor is not available.
    • Office friendliness - Since you will see your primary care physician more often than any other type doctor, make certain that you feel comfortable in the office. Notice the tone of the office and how friendly the staff is toward patients. Would you feel comfortable calling with a question?
    • Finances - Check with the office staff to find out how billing is handled. Depending on what type of insurance you have, you may have to pay a co-pay amount before you see the doctor. Find out if the office bills the insurance company or if you have to pay and send the receipts to the insurance company for reimbursement. Also find out about paying for lab work and other outside testing.
    • Additional services - Ask if the office offers any access via e-mail or Internet services to ask questions or to request appointments or prescription refills. Also check to see if the office performs on-site diagnostic services such as blood tests, X-rays, and urine tests.
    If you are not satisfied with any of the information you receive during your first exam, you should schedule time with another primary care provider and decide which doctor best meets your needs.

    For Further Information | back to top
    If you have additional questions or would like a referral to a Sutter-affiliated primary care physician in your neighborhood, please call our 24-hour referral hotline at (800) 4-SUTTER (478-8837), available seven days a week. Back to top.