One of the first steps of personal medical management is to carefully choose a primary care physician (PCP). The primary care doctor would be your first go-to person for most medical emergencies, routine screenings, wellness visits, and non-emergency medical illnesses like a sore throat, fever, and earaches. You would also direct most health-related questions to your primary care physician.
While some patient and primary care physician relationships can continue for years at a stretch, others can be short-lived because of changes in insurance policies. Nevertheless, this is one patient-doctor relationship you must value above all.
Role of Primary Care Physician in Maintaining Your Health
The primary care physician is like the medical home of a person. Over the years the physician learns about all the details there is to know about an individual’s personality, medications, allergies, treatment preferences, and lifestyle. Such detailed and intimate medical knowledge can make a huge difference when it comes to taking care of your health. A 2007 study claims that an individual’s risk of death from cancer, strokes, and heart diseases declines significantly when they have access to quality primary care physicians.
“Primary care doctors help you move through the continuum of life,” says Dr. Efrem Castillo. He further adds that with growing age, the functional ability of our body and medical needs undergo major changes. At times such as these, it is nice to have a primary care physician at hand who has intimate knowledge of our health care and can guide us properly.
Tips to Choose the Right Primary Care Physician
1. Find Doctors Listed in the Health Plans
The first step in choosing a primary care physician is to check out the ones included in your health plan. The physicians, hospitals, and clinics which are tied up with the health plan come at discounted rates. So, you will have to shell out less money while visiting these doctors, clinics, or hospitals. These doctors in common parlance are called “in-network” physicians for insurance purposes. Opting for “in-network” primary care physicians helps in preventing unwelcome surprises in the form of additional charges.
2. Find a Doctor who Meets Your Medical Requirements
Once you get access to the list of in-network physicians, start narrowing down your choices. Doctors belonging to different medical specialties can be listed under the category of primary care physician, namely doctors from Internal Medicine, Family Practice, or General Practice. There are also pediatricians only for the primary care of children. So, it is important to choose a doctor who meets your requirements.
Doctors of Internal Medicine: Primary care physicians of internal medicines generally treat adults and specialize in the diagnosis, prevention, and management of chronic health conditions and diseases.
Doctors of Family Practice: Primary care physicians serving in family medicine treats patients of all ages, from infants to the elderly. These doctors can treat a wide range of health conditions including special ailments such as women’s health needs or sports injuries.
3. Ask for Recommendations
Many people feel comfortable visiting a primary care physician who is referred by friends, family, and acquaintances. So, ask around for recommendations and find out which primary care physician your friends and family frequently visit. You can also take help of other healthcare professionals with whom you share a cordial relationship for a recommendation. Recommendations are a great way of identifying a helpful and skilled primary care physician.
4. Consider the Logistics
Choosing the right physician does not end after finding a doctor of the in-network list of your health plan. There are several other factors one needs to consider before going on the first visit. For instance, do you need a primary care physician located close to either your office or home? Do you need a doctor who works on weekends? These are some of the most basic and essential questions one needs to figure out before fixing an appointment with the doctor. The insurance company’s referral directory will provide you with the name and office location of the doctor. If the location is favorable, ask for the days and times the physician sees the patient. Apart from the location, timing, and dates, language is also an important aspect to consider before choosing the doctor. It is important to clearly communicate with your primary care physician to avoid miscommunication regarding the medical care.
5. Place a Cold Call
Dr. Castillo recommends all patients to call the doctor’s office before visiting the clinic to get a first impression. He says that a lot can be derived from the phone etiquette of the office staff.
For instance, ask them about the admission procedure of new patients and see how they answer. If the answer is detailed and informative, you can go forward with your choice or can move to your next option.
6. Visit the Primary Care Physician
The only way to feel absolutely sure about your choice is to visit the doctor’s office and have a face-to-face meeting with the primary care physician. In the first meeting talk at length about your present and past medical conditions, the medications you are taking, and other details of your medical history to stay on the same page with the doctor. The primary care physician is someone you trust, so you must feel comfortable to communicate with him/her about all your past and present health issues. The first visit will give you an idea about the clinic’s environment and the doctor’s behavior, based on which you can either continue seeing the primary care physician or switch to another one.
Primary care physicians are necessary for short and long-term health management and are important for your physical and mental well-being. Hopefully, the tips listed in the article will help you find a doctor suitable to your needs.