Everyone should have a primary care provider. Even if you see doctors such as dermatologists or endocrinologists regularly you should have someone who serves as your health manager. Establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor who is accessible, trustworthy, and a great listener and communicator will guide you to optimum health. Your primary care doctor will help you recover from illness and keep you informed of the latest preventive medical techniques and treatments.
Factors to consider in finding the right primary care doctor include:
Location- are they conveniently located?
Insurance- Do they take your plan? If not is it affordable?
Accessibility- Do they answer phones and return calls or emails promptly?
Hospital Affiliation- Is their hospital network one you like? Do they have access to hospital records if necessary?
Referrals-Do they communicate and follow up with specialists if needed?
Comfort level-Do you feel able to communicate with the doctor and staff about any subject?
Your primary care provider does not have to have an MD behind his or her name. S/he could also be a DO, NP or PA as described here:
Medical Doctors (MD) go to four years of allopathic medical school followed by a specialty residency of several years depending on the type. MDs follow standardized protocols of preventive care and treatment of diseases. MDs make up the greatest percentage of primary care providers.
Osteopathic Doctors (DO) attend osteopathic medicine school but may enter the same residency programs as MDs and often function with the same privileges to treat and prescribe that MDs do
Nurse Practitioners are highly trained nurses who can make diagnoses, recommend treatment plans and prescribe medications. They function similar to a primary care doctor and in some states, like New York, can even practice without a doctor’s supervision.
Physician Assistants can evaluate, prevent and treat diseases but must be supervised by a physician. They attend a 2-3 year master’s program after they complete a Bachelors degree.
Still not sure where to look? Ask around. Listen to your friends’ recommendations; better yet, ask you specialists who they like best. Don’t use urgent care centers as your go-to doctor, that won’t provide good continuity. Your primary care doctor will get to know you and guide your testing and treatment options based on your individual risk factors and lifestyle. See your primary care provider at least once a year and be rewarded with maximum health with healthcare customized to you.