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Time to pick a PCP: Don’t wait to find a primary care provider

Research shows that people who routinely see a PCP have better overall health and lower healthcare costs than people who don’t get that kind of medical attention.

 If the old adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” were followed, you’d think there’d be a nationwide apple shortage. The truth is there are apples aplenty, and the real shortage is the number of people who have regular doctors.

Let’s face it. Most people avoid visiting a physician until they absolutely have to, suffering through sore throats, headaches, sprained ankles and upset stomachs. But the time to find a primary care provider (PCP) is when you are healthy.

PCPs are trained to take care of all aspects of your health. That includes your physical, mental and emotional health. A PCP will focus on forging a long-term relationship with you, because he or she knows that getting to know you is the key to helping you make the best healthcare decisions.

“Most community members are under the mistaken impression that the physical examination, such as the taking of vital signs, is the most important part of the routine medical examination,” said Don Henderson, FACHE, president and CEO of Jackson Hospital. “However, experienced clinicians will tell you that 80 to 90 percent of making a good diagnosis is gaining thorough knowledge of a patient’s medical history, through a series of questions asked directly by the practitioner. [Therefore,] a long-term patient relationship with a ‘medical home’ physician will greatly enhance the accuracy of diagnosing and treating most diseases.

“An investment of additional time on the front end to build a good relationship with your physician could later result in life-enhancing or lifesaving consequences when it comes to important health decisions,” he said.

Deciding on a Provider

As an adult, you can decide among different types of PCPs:

  •     An internist, a physician who treats only adults.
  •     A family physician, who treats both children and adults.
  •     A nurse practitioner or physician assistant, who works closely with physicians to manage care and, like a physician, can refer you to a specialist, if needed.

No matter which type of PCP you choose, he or she will be the one to:

  •     Advise you about screening tests and vaccines.
  •     Treat your minor illnesses, such as colds and the flu.
  •     Help you manage any chronic diseases, like diabetes.
Your doctor may offer education and counseling as well.

If you do encounter more serious health problems, your PCP can act as a case manager.

He or she can recommend a specialist, such as a cardiologist (for heart disease) or an oncologist (for cancer), and can help you keep track of the different doctors and treatments you may need.

Open the doors to communication

Another important aspect of creating a relationship with your physician: Talk about your health concerns for both yourself and your family.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the single most important way to stay healthy is to be an active member of your healthcare team. That starts with making good doctor-patient communication a priority.

A great deal goes into communicating well with your doctor—some of it even before you meet face-to face. To make the most of your next doctor visit, keep in mind these tips from the AHRQ and other experts:

Define the problem. When scheduling your visit, be clear about why you want to see your PCP. The amount of time office staff reserves for your appointment is based on the problem or problems you specify.

Make lists. Before your appointment, write down your medical history, your symptoms, the names of any medications you take and any questions you have. This may help keep you focused and help ensure that you and your PCP talk about what’s most important to you.

Be forthright. Answer your PCP’s questions honestly. If you think there’s something important to mention, don’t wait for your PCP to bring it up. Share everything you think he or she should know.

Keep a sharp ear. Pay attention to what your PCP tells you. It may be useful to take notes or, with your PCP’s permission, to record your conversation. Some people benefit from asking for written instructions or having their PCP draw pictures to help explain things.

Ask questions. When things aren’t clear, say so. If you still have questions when your appointment ends, ask if you can call the office later.

Reap the benefits for your health

This comprehensive care offered by a PCP can have positive results for your health.

Research shows that people who routinely see a PCP have better overall health and lower healthcare costs than people who don’t get that kind of medical attention.

What’s more, finding the right PCP for you and your family, then developing a good relationship with your PCP, will help you feel satisfied about your medical care.

Find your Dr. Right

For help finding a PCP who is right for you, click here. You can also call 334-293-8888 for a referral to a Jackson Clinic provider.

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