Your relationship with your primary care physician is one of the most important ones you will ever have. But how do you go about choosing a primary care physician who meets your needs and who you are going to feel comfortable with for a long time?
In this video, Vivian Tran, MD, an internal medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Mission Valley, and San Diego Health host Susan Taylor discuss the role the primary care physician plays in your long-term health care, and what to consider when picking a new primary physician.
“In order to get the right care over a long period of time, it’s important to find a primary care doctor you like and maintain that relationship,” Dr. Tran says.
Dr. Tran describes the primary care doctor as the first line of defense when it comes to preventing you from coming down with an illness and treating you when you get sick.
“We're the people you see when you fall ill. We also provide preventative medicine. We do your annual physicals. We do routine visits. We make sure you’re up to date with all your screenings,” Dr. Tran says.
“And, if you need to see a specialist, we’re the ones who you come back to. We’re the ones that take a look at the whole picture and really try to see what’s going on and help coordinate your care.”
There are several different types of primary care physicians, including family medicine and internal medicine specialists and pediatricians.
- Pediatricians focus on children from infancy through age 18.
- Family medicine physicians specialize in both children and adults.
- Geriatricians treat patients 60 and older.
- OB/GYNs specialize in women’s reproductive health.
As an internal medicine physician, Dr. Tran treats adults 18 years and older. Her focus is on preventive care, and her medical interests include dermatology and diabetes management.
Your primary care physician will often be your first point of contact when it comes to any health concern, she says. “We like to consider ourselves the quarterbacks of your health," Dr. Tran says.
Some patient-primary care relationships can last for decades, while others can be short-lived, especially when there is a move or health plan change.
“The first thing that I usually like to tell people is location is the most important,” Dr. Tran says. “It's important to find a doctor who is close to you. Whether it's someone who is close to your home or close to your work, it should be someone you have easy access to. You don't want to drive 45 minutes to have to see your primary care doctor when you're sick."
Dr. Tran says checking the doctor’s work schedule is also important. "You want to know if your doctor works five days a week and whether they offer late hours,” she says.
Language, gender and age may also affect your selection. “Some patients have no preference and that’s totally fine,” Dr. Tran says. “But if you don’t speak English fluently or at all, it’s important to have a doctor who can speak your language if possible.”
You may find a primary care doctor through a referral from a friend, neighbor or family member. But even with a great recommendation, it’s important to check if they are in your health plan network. Just as important is learning as much as possible about the physicians you are considering. “Every doctor has his or her own philosophy of care and it’s usually listed in their online bio,” Dr. Tran says.
The Scripps website, for example, gives you the option to find a doctor according to specialty and provides important information about the physician, including medical training, board certification, and in the case of primary care physicians, any medical interest they may have in another field.
If you need to see a specialist, such as a cardiologist, your primary care physician will likely play a large role, as many health plans require a referral from your primary to see a specialist.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of candidates, make a list of questions you want to ask the office staff, including whether they are accepting new patients.
Before your first visit, gather your medical records from your previous doctor and bring them to your new provider to help him or her get up to speed quickly on your medical history. Bring a folder containing:
- Prior immunizations and dates
- Results of health screenings from recent years
- Previous abnormal test results, surgeries and medical procedures
- Current medications and supplements, including dosages and frequency
Some people schedule visits multiple times a year even when they are feeling well. Others wait until they get sick.
Dr. Tran says the frequency of your visits depends on your personal circumstances, including your age and health history.
“When you're younger and healthy, it's probably not as urgent for you to see your doctor on a yearly basis,” Dr. Tran says.
“But I do encourage it because that's the time that you get with your doctor to establish a relationship so they can know what's going on in your life,” Dr. Tran says. “It’s important for your primary care doctor to understand you as a whole person rather than just your medical complaints.”