Preventive care Your Health & Wellness

Four questions to ask yourself about your primary care doctor

I’ve explained the many reasons it’s important to have a good primary care doctor (PMD). Once you have one the next question is, how can you know if your PMD meets your needs?

Most of us trust our doctors and believe they meet our needs. And, without medical expertise, it’s hard to judge whether a doctor is good beyond the doctor’s bedside manners. Do you like the doctor, and feel comfortable with the doctor? Of course, these things matter. Research confirms that patient health improves with better doctor communication skills. A doctor’s reputation, training, and certification are also important to review. The office location, and how smoothly the office functions are important factors.. However, there are other questions you should ask yourself about whether your primary care doctor meets your needs that are more subtle.

Here are four questions to ask yourself:

  1. Does your PMD listen to you, know you, and share important decisions with you? Does your PMD practice ‘the art of medicine’? A good PMD will ask you questions about your view of your health, and health priorities before giving recommendations on important testing or treatments. For example, continuing routine mammogram screenings after the age of 75 is something for women to discuss with their doctors; the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force does not recommend it. But, the right decision is whatever is best for you. This discussion can also be important if you are considering a new drug or surgery. Age, kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease and gender may reduce (or increase) the effectiveness of some treatments, and you should know these factors before making a decision.
  1. Is your PMD comfortable discussing all of your medical problems? A good PMD will address any and all medical problems you raise, and doesn’t constantly refer you to specialists for every symptom.
  1. Is your PMD prepared to ‘be the quarterback for’ or ‘orchestrate’ the care from all your other doctors? All PMDs do want to coordinate care with your other doctors, but realistically may not have the time or resources to do this effectively. At the very least, does your PMD attempt to know what the other doctors are recommending for you?
  1. Do you have a PMD who tries to prevent new problems and not just treat existing ones? A good PMD will keep a ‘health maintenance’ list on you, or some similar file, that records your needs for screening tests, vaccines, and other preventive medicine items.

You may be surprised to learn that some PMD behaviors may not reflect whether your PMD is meeting your needs:

  • A good PMD may often have a staff member relay his or her response to your phone calls. PMDs have to balance how to spend their time, and may decide that some of their responses can be safely and effectively delivered to you through their staff. This doesn’t mean they haven’t thought or care about you!
  • A good PMD might sometimes be rushed, and unable to discuss multiple concerns at every visit. A good doctor will always at a minimum identify and address your most urgent needs, acknowledge the others, and make a plan for additional visits.

If you haven’t really thought about these questions, you’re not alone. It’s easier to assume your doctor is meeting your needs than to find another doctor. You might want to consider asking a family member or close friend to help you to answer these questions. If some of your answers are no, consider starting here at this Just Care link to find a new internist or family physician who better meets your needs.


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