Studies have found that adults who routinely see a general physician, or primary care doctor, are more likely to receive regular cancer screenings, diagnostic testing, diabetes check-ups and counseling, compared to those who do not have a primary care physician.
Outside of specialists visits like OB-GYN, vision care, dental care and so on, it’s important to have a general physician who knows you, your health history and can observe your health for changes over time. But, for many people, finding the right primary care doctor or primary care clinic can be a challenge.
What is a primary care clinic?
Primary care is classified as the day-to-day healthcare given by a health care provider. Typically, the provider acts as the first contact and point-of-care for patients within the healthcare system. He or she will be responsible for coordinating other specialists who will provide care as needed (i.e. he or she will refer a patient to a cardiologist for a consult, if necessary).
Doctors who provide primary care should be considered allies for patients, as they’re able to:
- Recognize early symptoms of a serious disease or illness
- Distinguish between self-limited illnesses (like colds) and problems requiring further medical intervention (like infections)
- Perform medical histories, physicals and diagnoses in an efficient way
- Provide screening and counseling to prevent disease
- Communicate with a patient in a long-term relationship
- Access and utilize social and financial resources for patients
How to find a primary care clinic
When you set out to find a primary care clinic or primary care doctor for you or your family, it can seem like a daunting task. After all, you’re searching for someone who will know just as much, if not more, than you about your medical history and health plan.
When looking for a primary care doctor or clinic, here are the steps to follow:
Step 1: Determine which doctors are “in-network”. If you have health insurance, you’ll want to make sure that you visit a doctor’s office that accepts your specific type of insurance. Most health insurance plans have negotiated special discounted rates that you want to make sure you take advantage of. This will ensure you pay less out-of-pocket for visits.
- To find a list of in-network doctors and hospitals, search the provider directory on your insurance’s website.
- If you don’t have health insurance, you’ll want to find a low-cost health care option. At Community Access Network, our reduced fee program may be able to help.
Step 2: Once you have a list of doctors who are either in-network or offer a low-cost health care option, you should then narrow down that list based on your health needs. As an adult, you’ll want to look for a provider who falls under one of three categories:
- Family Practice
- Internal Medicine
- General Practice
Step 3: Ask around for advice. Ask your friends or colleagues who they see for their primary medical care. You may feel more comfortable visiting a doctor that comes recommended by someone you trust.
Step 4: You can never really know if you’ve found the right doctor for you until you’ve visited him or her. Schedule an intake appointment to talk with the doctor about any medications you’re taking, your medical history and any issues you may have noticed.
What services does a primary care clinic provide?
A primary care doctor is able to provide a number of primary care services to adults of any age. It’s recommended that children continue to see their pediatrician for their primary care needs until they are 18.
A primary care doctor is able to administer shots and vaccinations, which will help prevent illness. They are also able to provide well-woman exams, such as breast exams or pap smears, though a gynecologist is able to provide that service as well. A primary care doctor can also provide yearly physical exams, which will provide a baseline for important healthcare metrics, like cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, STDs and HPV, and so on.
In addition to those core services, a primary care doctor can also provide care for common illnesses, such as:
- Bronchitis and sinus infections
- Cold and cough
- Headaches and migraines
- Sprains and strains
- Urinary tract infections
- Other common illnesses
He or she can even provide care for chronic conditions like:
- Depression or anxiety
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
Finally, your primary care doctor can provide basic lab tests that are important to monitoring your overall health. This includes:
- Pregnancy test
- Urine test
- PT/INR blood test
- Tuberculosis (PPD) test
Questions to ask a new primary care doctor
Once you’ve found a primary care doctor that you feel comfortable with, and who is in-network if you have insurance, there are a few questions that will be helpful to ask. These questions will help you get a better feel for the way their particular office is run, what you can hope to expect as a patient, and it’ll help you get to know their personality a bit better as well.
You’ll want to come to your initial appointment with specific questions regarding your health and medical history, but here are additional questions to ask that will familiarize you more with their office:
- What are your credentials? How many total years have you been in practice?
- Where did you go to medical school?
- How many patients are currently in your practice? Do you have a limit of the number of patients you will accept?
- Do you offer any unique services like wellness planning, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), genetic and genomic tests, health coaching, etc?
- Do you have a website?
- Do you take my insurance? Do you offer self-pay pricing? Do you offer reduced fee programs?
- How long do patients typically wait for appointments?
- Do you make same and next-day appointments for urgent matters?
- What are your average wait times?
- Tell me about your after-hours office policies? What happens if I have an emergency?
- Do you work with a certain hospital? Will you be involved in my care if I’m hospitalized?
- Can I call or email you with non-urgent questions?
- Is this a group practice? Will I ever see a Physician’s Assistant (PA) or Nurse Practitioner (NP) or another doctor?
- How do you simplify prescriptions?
- What level of communication can I expect?
- How do you handle specialist referrals?
- Will you help me with extra paperwork I may need for supplemental insurance?
We are here to help
At Community Access Network, we are here to help. Not only do we have a team of primary care doctors on staff, but we also have a team of pediatricians, gynecologists, vision care providers and so on who are able to help with the more specialty areas of your primary care.
We have office hours from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.