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Importance of Primary Care

Importance of Having a Primary Care Provider (PCP)

Research has found that patients with a primary care provider (PCP) have a higher level of satisfaction with their care, incur lower overall healthcare costs, and have better management of chronic diseases.  It is best to avoid waiting until you are ill to establish with a primary care provider, as this could cause a delay in getting care and/or getting a referral to a specialist, if needed.  

Benefits to Building a Relationship with a PCP 

  • A primary care provider can handle the majority of your healthcare needs from preventive care to immunizations to a bout with the flu or digestion issues to diagnosing and treating a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma. 
    • If additional evaluation and/or treatment is necessary, your PCP can refer you to the appropriate specialist.  Many insurance plans require a referral from your PCP to see a specialist (for example, a cardiologist, dermatologist, endocrinologist, etc.)  
  • Your PCP, along with their staff, can help you navigate the often complex healthcare system.  If needed, they can help you find a specialist and communicate with the them to coordinate your care.

  • Works with you to keep you healthy, not just treating you when you are sick.

  • The better your PCP knows you, the more likely it is that they can identify subtle changes in your health; changes that you may not even notice yourself.

  • Identifies and orders routine screening tests (for example, cholesterol check, mammogram, colonoscopy, etc.) appropriate for your age, sex, medical and family history

    • Many illnesses are found during routine physicals and screenings.  The earlier the identification, the better the chances are for a good outcome.
  • It can save you time.  If you are established with a primary provider, it is usually easier to get an appointment.

Choosing a Primary Care Provider

Consider these practical Issues when choosing a primary care provider:

  • Understand your insurance coverage.  Your insurance provider may require that you choose a PCP from a certain network of providers, and if you choose outside of the network, the cost to you will likely increase, often significantly.  

  • Is the physical location of the clinic convenient for you and your family?

  • Does the clinic have their own laboratory and x-ray facilities, or would you need to go to a different location?

  • What hospitals do they use should you have an emergency, need surgery, or need to be hospitalized for other reasons?

  • Are specialists available within the same healthcare system or would you need to go elsewhere?

  • Ask your family, friends or co-workers for recommendations.  If you know any healthcare professionals, ask them for a recommendation, based on their experience.

  • What kind of provider do you want?  Someone who can see the entire family, someone who focuses just on women or older people?

  • How long would you typically have to wait for an appointment?

  • Consider the provider’s medical credentials and your type of health needs.  Are your needs fairly straightforward or do you need someone with a higher level of training?

    • Many clinics have online postings with their providers’ names, a brief profile that lists where they went to medical school, any special board certifications, areas of special interest or training, and languages spoken.

Getting Ready for a Visit/Appointment

  • Help in how to make appointments
  • Make note of the name of the provider, the date, time, and location of the appointment and plan your schedule to be there on time.  If the location is new to you, verify the address and where to park, prior to the appointment.

  • Keep a symptoms diary ahead of the visit, including the date a symptom (such as a cough or fever) started and if it has gotten better or worse.

    • Include what remedies (over-the-counter medications or treatments) you tried at home and if they seemed to help.
    • Include issues like stressors in your life (for example, death in the family, job issues, etc.), especially if your mood has been negatively affected.
    • Create a personal health record.
  • Bring a list of questions to the appointment.

    • Keep in mind that if you have multiple health concerns, the provider may not be able to address all issues during a single visit.  Focus on getting the most important issue(s) addressed first and consider scheduling another visit for the less urgent issues.
  • Gather and bring medical records (including doctor’s notes, test results, immunization history) to the appointment, especially if this is a new provider.

  • Be prepared to listen to the provider and what they recommend, in addition to asking your own questions.  Other hints for talking with your doctor.

  • Keep brief notes of the visit, perhaps next to the questions you brought with to the visit.

  • Before you leave the visit, be sure that you understand:

    • What the next steps are, for example, any new medications or treatments ordered, changes in medication dosage, and any tests that need to be done and how to schedule them
    • When you need to see the provider next
    • How to best contact the provider’s office with questions (telephone, email through apps such as My Chart or My Health), including approximately how long it usually takes to get a response.

Initial Visit(s)

  • Was the provider someone who listened to you without interrupting, explained things in a way that you could easily understand, looked at you as a whole person and not just your physical condition?

  • Was the office staff friendly and courteous?

  • Did you feel comfortable and welcome?

  • How long was the wait time once you checked in?  Did you have to wait a long time?  Is this typical?

  • Did you get an after visit summary, letting you know what to do next, for example, any blood tests or x-rays needed, any medication changes, and when to schedule your next visit?

  • Would you feel comfortable seeing the provider again?

  • Do they have any plans to leave the practice in the near future?

Ongoing Considerations

  • Are you able to get appointments when you need them and in a reasonable period of time?  Learn how to make appointments.

  • Do you feel comfortable talking with your PCP and feel that you are being heard?
  • Are your needs being met?  If you feel your needs are not being met, be honest with the PCP, let them know what you feel is missing or is confusing with your care.  Don’t be hesitant to begin a search for another PCP; it is your choice.  

Deciding on Treatment

When faced with the diagnosis of a disease or health condition, it can be a confusing and anxiety provoking time, especially when faced with making treatment decisions. There is help available.