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Choosing the “Right” Primary Care Physician
Selecting a primary care physician is an important first step toward managing your family’s healthcare. Your primary care provider is your medical “home.” It’s the provider you visit for most medical needs, including wellness visits and routine screenings, non-emergency illnesses like earaches and sore throats, and the person you speak to about your health questions and concerns.
Some patient-primary care relationships can span decades, while others will be short-lived because you change insurance or move. No matter how long you plan to see your primary care provider, the relationship is an important one. You’ll want to select someone you feel comfortable having honest conversations with, someone with expertise in the areas that meet your health needs.
How to Find a PCP
To find a PCP, start by asking yourself what matters to you. For instance, you'll want the PCP's office to take your health insurance and, ideally, be close to home. Other things to consider include how helpful and friendly the staff is, how easy it is to get in touch with the PCP, and whether the PCP's office hours will work with your schedule.
Ask for recommendations from friends, neighbors, relatives, and doctors or nurses you already know and trust.
Once you have a list of candidates, learn what you can about the PCP. For instance, does he or she:
come across as open and friendly or more formal?
prefer to treat conditions aggressively or take a "wait and see" approach?
try to handle things in the office or refer most patients to specialists?
When to Go to the PCP
A PCP should be your first option for any medical condition that isn't an emergency. Call the PCP if your child has:a high fever
a headache that doesn't go away
a persistent cough
When in doubt, call the PCP. Even if the PCP isn't available, someone else in the office can talk with you and determine whether your child should go to the ER. On weekends and at night, PCPs often have answering services that allow them to get in touch with you if you leave a message.
When to Go to an Emergency Room
Go to the ER if your child:
has difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
has had a change in mental status, such as suddenly becoming unusually sleepy or difficult to wake, disoriented, or confused
has a cut in the skin that is bleeding and won't stop
has a stiff neck along with a fever
has a rapid heartbeat that doesn't slow down
accidentally ingests a poisonous substance or too much medication
has had more than minor head trauma
Don’t wait until you get sick to choose a PCP. Primary Care Providers may see their patients regularly and look for symptoms a patient may not notice. For example, a routine health exam may uncover conditions such as high blood pressure or even hormonal imbalances due to glandular problems. Health problems like these can go unnoticed by the patient for years and could result in serious chronic health issues. Annual exams may help your PCP guide you toward healthy lifestyle habits that may decrease the likelihood that you’ll need expensive specialty care.