Selecting a good primary-care physician is one of the best things you can do for your health. Think of your primary-care physician as a partner focused on keeping you healthy for life. This is the person who knows your personal health history and schedules routine screening tests that frequently help prevent and detect diseases such as heart attack, cancer and diabetes.
A primary-care doctor is more than just the person you call when you feel ill or suffer an injury. He or she follows the latest research on disease risk factors and can tell you how to lower your individual risk. Like a good coach or teacher, a primary-care doctor will encourage you to make healthful lifestyle changes, keep track of your preventive tests and treatments, and help you through illnesses. This person may also become the custodian of your health history and the doctor other doctors will call for information if you’re ever hospitalized for a serious medical condition.
Primary-care doctors include family medicine physicians for patients of all ages, internal medicine physicians for adult patients, and pediatricians for children. So you have many choices when it comes to picking a doctor.
As you search for a primary-care physician, I recommend you consider the following.
• Ask your friends and family about the primary-care doctors they see. It’s always good to get personal referrals to ensure that you’re getting a doctor with a reputation for high-quality, patient-focused care.
• Make sure you feel comfortable with the doctor. You’ll want to develop a trusting, long-term doctor-patient relationship – and so do all good primary-care doctors. Schedule an appointment to find out whether you work well together on a real medical concern. One of the best things you can do for your health is to establish a strong working partnership with your primary-care doctor and his or her health-care team.
• Find out whether the doctor uses electronic health records. Personal electronic health records make it easier to share important health information quickly if you need to be seen at another medical facility. These secure online records also allow you to view test results conveniently, request prescription renewals and appointments, and receive automatic reminders when you’re due for immunizations and health-maintenance screening tests.
• Consider where the doctor’s office is located. While most healthy adults only need a checkup every one to five years, it’s more convenient to have a doctor located close to your home or work.
• Ask how easy it is to get in to see the doctor. Be aware that some practices have a policy that enables patients to see a primary-care doctor the same day they call for an appointment.
Selecting a good primary-care physician is a very important step toward a more healthful lifestyle. I hope these tips make the process of finding the right doctor a little easier for you and your family.
Dr. Dominique Quincy is the department head of Family Medicine at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Palo Alto Center.
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and editor Arian Dasmalchi provide this monthly column.