We often hear from patients who want to focus more on their health and wellness but aren’t sure how to choose a primary care physician that will meet their needs.
A great primary care provider partners with you on disease detection and prevention and helps guide you toward a healthier lifestyle.
Read on for more about how to choose a primary care physician. Plus, get tips for making the most out of your patient-doctor relationship.
Why you need a primary care provider
A primary care doctor is your point person to coordinate all your care needs. They can diagnose and treat common, non-emergency medical conditions. They can also help you manage any existing health conditions and recommend routine health screenings.
One of the most significant benefits of having a trusted primary care provider is the open and honest dialogue you can have with them about your health and wellness goals. Yes, they can help you when you’re already sick, but they can also help you take steps to prevent certain illnesses in the future.
If it turns out you develop a medical condition that requires more specific expertise, your primary care doctor can refer you to a specialist for treatment. They can communicate with your specialist and will stay in the loop on any treatment you receive. This helps them maintain a better overall picture of your health.
Your primary care provider can:
- Guide you on making better decisions about your health to prevent disease (e.g., healthy diet, quitting smoking)
- Make sure your vaccines are up to date
- Suggest screening tests for detecting problems (e.g., mammogram, colonoscopy)
- Diagnose and treat common illnesses (e.g., infection, flu)
- Help you manage long-term health conditions (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure)
- Refer you to a medical specialist if needed (e.g., knee surgeon, heart doctor)
How to choose a primary care physician
When deciding how to choose a primary care physician for you or a loved one, you’re looking for someone who truly cares about your health and wellness and will take the time to understand your needs and concerns.
You’ll want to find a qualified primary care physician in their practice and accepts your medical coverage or insurance plan. If you have insurance through your employer, you can check the provider’s website for a list of primary care providers that are “in-network” for your plan.
There are different kinds of primary care providers for different types of patients, including:
- Family medicine doctor. Sees patients of all ages (sometimes everyone in the family will see the same doctor)
- Pediatrician. Cares for babies, children, and teens
- Internal medicine doctor (internist). Sees only adults
- Geriatrician. Cares for seniors and the elderly
- Obstetrician or gynecologist (OB/GYN). Focuses on women’s health and pregnancy and delivers babies
- Nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. Can sometimes provide primary care when working under a primary care physician
When figuring out how to choose a primary care physician, you may be able to schedule interviews with potential doctors who are accepting new patients. This can help you get a better feel for if they’re a good fit for your personality and specific health needs.
You can ask questions like:
- Are you certified in primary care?
- What are your qualifications?
- How many years have you been practicing?
- Do you focus more on disease prevention or treatment?
- How do you decide when your patient needs a specialist?
- What are your office hours?
- How do you like to communicate with patients (in person, phone, email)?
- Whom would I see when you’re not available?
- How long does it usually take to get an appointment?
- Does your office do lab tests and screenings onsite?
If you can’t meet with a doctor for an initial interview, you can always check out their practice’s website to learn more about them. You can also check out any online reviews of the doctor or their practice. If you’re still unsure, ask family and friends if there is a doctor they like and would recommend.
How to get the most out of your primary care appointments
Once you’ve found a primary care doctor you trust, approach your appointments with a wellness mindset. Think of your primary care provider as your partner in health and wellness, and take their advice when it’s given.
Take advantage of the annual health check-up
Even if you’re currently in good health, meeting with your primary care doctor at least once a year can help them get a comprehensive look at your overall health needs. These appointments are typically covered at little to no cost with most insurance plans.
The annual health check-up is a great time to build a rapport with your doctor and build mutual trust. You can discuss preventative care and any critical annual disease screenings you may need. You can also discuss any healthy habits that may benefit you.
Don’t turn to Dr. Google
Another thing to remember is that your primary care provider is specially trained and experienced in diagnosing you when you’re sick. If you’re not feeling well, avoid Googling your symptoms before your visit to figure out what’s wrong. This can lead to unnecessary stress and worry.
See your primary care doctor when you start noticing symptoms and explain what you’re feeling. Trust them to make the proper diagnosis.
Ask questions and advocate for yourself
Another essential thing to remember is that your relationship with your primary care doctor is a partnership. Be honest with them about anything you don’t understand, and don’t feel bad about asking questions.
If your doctor says you need a certain test or prescription, make sure you’re involved in the decision and advocate for yourself if needed. Ask about any potential side effects of a drug, or ask if that test is necessary or if there are any alternatives. If you’re concerned about the cost of a test or procedure, let your doctor know.
A good primary care provider will listen to your concerns and work with you to make the best decisions for your health.
Visit Ikechukwu Ozoigbo, M.D.
Dr. Ozoigbo (Oh-zee-bo) is a board-certified family medicine physician with special interests in preventative medicine and the management of chronic illnesses. He is currently accepting new patients.
REQUEST AN APPOINTMENT WITH DR. OZOIGBO
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