When it comes to getting quality healthcare, a lot of players are involved. Medical plans, insurance companies, government organizations and the providers themselves — doctors, nurses, hospitals, pharmacists, etc. — all have a big responsibility. And so do we, as patients. Little by little, we’re learning how critical it is to actively participate in our own healthcare.
This means we can’t ignore the importance of finding a doctor who will be the kind of partner we need–preferably before something goes wrong.
“The old days of closing your eyes and trusting your health to any doctor are gone”, says PersonaLabs Medical Director Dr. Edward Salko, DO. “It’s up to you to have your own best interests at heart, and act on those interests. Who has a better stake in your good health than you?”
What Does a Primary Care Provider Do?
If you’re insured, chances are your health plan requires you to have a primary care provider (PCP).
As the name suggests, the primary care provider’s job is to be your first point of contact and first line of defense. Think of this person as someone you’ll have a long-term relationship with. It’s not about the drama of emergency situations it’s about day-to-day health and healthy lifestyles.
Your primary care practitioner will
- focus on preventative care including lifestyle choices
- treat common medical conditions
- direct you to specialists if necessary
Again, don’t wait until you need a doctor before you find a primary care provider who’s right for you. But before you get into the process of selecting one, know that there are different types of PCPs to choose from:
- Family practitioners, or general practitioners, are commonly the choice for families, as they treat adults and children.
- Internists diagnose and treat a range of diseases, but many have a subspecialty if you have specific concerns, such as heart problems.
- Pediatricians care for newborns up to the adolescent years.
- Obstetricians / gynecologists can also be PCPs for women.
In some cases, nurse practitioners or physicians assistants can serve as your PCP.
Making the Right Choice… For You
The idea of going through lists of unfamiliar names might be overwhelming, but consider taking it step by step.
- Try to get names from friends, relatives, co-workers and medical professionals you trust.
- If you’re in a managed care plan, check to see who’s covered by your plan.
- Check the provider’s credentials–he or she should be board-certified.
- Check what hospitals they’re affiliated with, especially if you prefer a certain hospital.
- Find out the office hours, location, and whether it’s a solo or group practice–the office should be a place you’re comfortable going.
- Ask how the provider communicates — can you reach them by phone or email?
- You also might want to consider choosing a doctor who shares your cultural heritage or religious views.
Next, schedule an initial visit. At that visit, trust your instincts.
- Make sure the office staff is friendly and helpful.
- Bring your complete medical history and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- If the provider is dismissive, makes you wait for too long a time, rushes you or has a “bedside manner” that rubs you the wrong way, it’s probably not a good fit.
Invest in Your New Relationship
Once you’ve chosen a primary care provider, hold up your end of the partnership.
- Be honest about your health history and habits. Your doctor always needs complete information.
- Weigh in on treatment options; don’t just agree to something if you won’t follow through. Work with your doctor to make decisions that will work.
- If you don’t understand anything your provider is telling you, don’t let it slide. You both benefit when you both are looking at the complete picture.
- Don’t be afraid to do research online, but listen to your doctor in the same way he or she listens to you.
- Take advantage of online testing such as those offered by PersonaLabs to learn clinical information that you can take to your doctor.
Particularly if you have specific concerns or know you have certain physical conditions, this is the sort of pro-active step that will save time and put you both ahead of the game.
“Today’s technology provides patients with access to a lot of information, and that means they’re learning what questions to ask.” says Dr. Salko. “When individuals take responsibility for their own health by engaging, it sends a positive message to their healthcare provider: ‘l am invested in this relationship.’ That builds a stronger and healthier trust between doctor and patient.”