If you don’t have a primary care provider (PCP), it’s time to start looking!
When you notice an unusual symptom, the first thing you probably do is consult Google or visit an urgent care clinic. Unfortunately, these health resources don’t have a personal relationship with you, nor do they have a comprehensive knowledge of you and your family’s medical history. Only a care provider who has a longstanding relationship with you can be trusted to develop the most appropriate treatment plan and be there for each step along the way to make sure you reach your health goals.
A PCP is more than a physician. A PCP is your physician. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t go to a stranger for advice about a difficult personal situation. You’d go to someone close to you whose opinion you trust and respect. The same should go for your health. When you’re well, your PCP can keep an eye on you and identify potential health issues before they become critical and costly. If you have a chronic disease, your PCP can help you better manage your condition and prevent expensive, unnecessary hospital admissions.
Ready for a Healthy Relationship?
You should first determine what type of PCP you’re looking for. If you’re a woman, you may want a PCP who is also an OB/GYN. If you’re a senior, you may want a geriatrician as your PCP. Some PCPs are internal medicine physicians, meaning they only treat adult patients, whereas a family medicine physician can be the PCP for your children, as well. Once you have your list narrowed down, conduct some research at www.stvincent.org or www.3384her.com to help you find answers to a few basic questions about each candidate, such as:
- · Does the practice accept my health insurance?
- · What is this doctor’s medical education and training background? How long has he or she been in practice?
- · Does he or she have any training or experience managing patients with my condition?
Information + Intuition
The next step is to schedule a free get acquainted visit to get a better sense of each PCP’s expertise, care philosophy and overall demeanor. These 10–15 minute meetings should help you answer the following questions:
- · Is it easy to get in touch after-hours in case I have an urgent question?
- · Does this doctor emphasize holistic and/or nontraditional approaches to treatment? Is that something I want?
- · Did he or she seem stressed or overburdened? Was the office reception area full of patients? (This may be an indication that the PCP won’t be able to give you adequate time and attention.)
- · Do I feel comfortable with this doctor? Did conversation flow easily?
During this meeting, trust your gut. Feeling like you and the PCP “clicked” may seem like an intangible criterion, but it’s no less real or important. You should be able to imagine yourself building a long-term relationship with this person.
This article was reviewed by Julie Schneiders, W.H.N.P., M.S.N., executive director, St.Vincent Carmel Women’s Center.