By Sophia L. Thomas, DNP, FNP-BC, PPCNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP
Choosing a primary care provider is one of the most important health decisions you can make to ensure your health. In the United States, nearly 29% of men and 18% of women don’t have a primary care provider, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
You may be asking the question: “Why do I need a primary care provider?” Choosing a primary care provider is the first step in managing your overall health. They serve as your first point of contact for most of your health needs, conducting well checks, screening for disease, diagnosing illnesses, ordering tests, administering vaccines, treating acute and chronic conditions and managing treatment plans for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other conditions.
Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider is about more than simply ensuring coverage for the many issues that might arise in your family’s lifetime. Primary care ensures that you have a health care provider who is familiar with your family and who coordinates your care with a larger health team.
Primary care providers can be nurse practitioners (NPs), physicians and PAs, who assess patients, order and interpret tests, make diagnoses, prescribe medications and treat acute and chronic conditions. Patients are benefiting from increased access to health care and a choice of health care providers, and patients are choosing to see an NP in more than 1 billion visits each year.
Your primary care provider should take the time to listen, be accessible, know you as a person and understand the nuances of your health history, your health fears, your reactions to medications, your lifestyle choices and your treatment preferences. A strong patient-provider relationship leads to better care and better health outcomes throughout the continuum of life.
When choosing a primary care provider, there are several questions you should ask in order to determine if the provider is the right fit for you and your needs:
- What is your health care philosophy?
- Do you have any specialty or focus areas within your practice?
- Do you have experience treating [condition]?
- What are your typical office hours? Do you have night and weekend hours?
- How long does it typically take to get a well-patient appointment? A visit when sick?
- Do you have same-day appointments for emergency situations?
- Can I reach you after hours in an emergency? If so, what is the process?
- How do you handle non-urgent questions? Can I call or email you directly? What are your typical response times?
Asking these questions can help you get to know a primary care provider, not just through the answers they give, but also through their communication style as they deliver those answers.
Choosing a new primary care provider can be daunting. Take your time, ask questions and get to know the provider before committing. This person will be your partner in health. Find a provider you can trust – and consider an NP.