There are a lot of good reasons to have a primary care doctor. Not only can you often save money on emergency room visits (41% of people who visited an emergency room could have been treated by their primary care doctors). But research shows that people with a primary care doctor actually live longer.
You can also take comfort in knowing your primary care physician can keep track of your medical history, offer preventive care and treat many chronic conditions. But a board-certified physician can be your first line of defense against a long list of health problems and medical conditions. Having a primary care doctor means you always have someone to help you with your healthcare.
But choosing a primary care doctor can be difficult. You have to find the type of doctor who suits your needs. Primary Care? Family Practitioners? Internal Medicine? That’s why we’ve put together some helpful information to help you find the right primary care doctor.
Primary Care Doctor versus Family Doctor
Let’s start at the beginning. You’ve probably seen the terms “primary care doctor” and “family doctor” used interchangeably, but it’s important to note they are not exactly the same.
Family medicine doctors care for people of all ages — from children to geriatrics — while primary care doctors focus their care on adults of all ages. You may also see primary care doctors referred to as internal medicine doctors or you may see that internal medicine was their primary focus of study.
Typically, children will segue to a primary care doctor from their pediatrician. But a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 26% to 33% of Millennials do not have an ongoing relationship with a primary doctor — twice as high as people ages 50 to 64.
How to Find the Right Primary Care Doctor for You
A typical search for a primary care doctor begins with a check of your health insurance plan. Your health plan will provide a list of doctors in your network. You’ll probably consider a physician who’s close to your home or someone recommended by word of mouth. When you hear good things about a particular doctor, that helps you with your decision.
But much more than a doctor’s credentials goes into evaluating a potential physician. Also, consider the following:
- How is the office staff? Are they friendly and helpful? Do they return calls in a timely manner?
- Are the office hours and location convenient to your schedule?
- Does the provider use email or a patient portal in addition to the phone to communicate with patients?
- What is the doctor’s communication style? Is he or she warm and friendly or more formal?
It’s also worth checking if the practice you’re considering provides physician assistants or nurse practitioners you could see if your physician is unavailable. These professionals receive varying levels of medical training. The important thing to keep in mind is whether you’re seeing an MD, nurse practitioner or physician assistant, each professional can diagnose and treat illnesses, order tests and write prescriptions.
Whether it’s your health insurance plan, a friend’s recommendation or research you did on your own, finding a primary care doctor is very important. Your doctor will be there when you’re feeling sick and when you’re healthy. Even if you’re only seeing your primary care once a year for a physical, you can use it as a gauge to figure out how healthy you are.
And once you do decide on a primary care doctor, you’re encouraged to look over our checklist of screenings for middle-aged people. Inside you’ll find out which tests are right for you and at what age you should consider them.