People often don’t know where to go for the different health situations they encounter. Primary care doctors can help patients connect to the right care in the right place at the right time.
According to a recent Harvard poll, most people go to urgent care centers instead of a primary care doctor because they believe it’s more convenient and takes less time. Preconceived notions of access to care could result in people going to health care facilities that don’t match their medical needs.
“If you have the time to ask yourself ‘Where should I go for this problem?’ the default should be to call your primary care doctor,” said Stephen Bekanich, MD, medical director of Seton Health Alliance. “If it’s not a life-threatening, medical emergency such as stroke symptoms or crushing chest pain, then it’s worth calling up your doctor before rushing to an emergency room or an urgent care clinic.”
Having a primary care physician not only benefits patients in unexpected times of need, but it also helps healthcare providers effectively communicate with patients and provide the right treatment.
“Calling your primary care doctor first is the best move, because it connects you to a professional who can help you determine the appropriate next steps for any given health situation,” said Alison Ziari, MD, chief of pediatrics at Austin Regional Clinic.
“For example, let’s say you injure your ankle while playing basketball and you can’t tell if it’s broken or not. That’s when it would be appropriate to head to an urgent care center. That said, most primary care offices also offer urgent care access as well. The truth is that most people have much more access than they realize.”
Both Bekanich and Ziari recognize the challenges people face in making in-the-moment decisions on where to go for health care.
“There is a panic factor involved,” said Bekanich. “Patients see that an ER has everything available, so they go without giving enough consideration to the out-of-pocket expenses and whether they are truly facing a medical emergency. They are also concerned that other health care venues will not have the services they need. In reality, there are appropriate options for most issues.”
If it is after normal service hours and you can’t reach your primary care doctor, that’s when it’s time to find a retail clinic or urgent care center, said Bekanich.
According to Bekanich, cost is unfortunately an afterthought in most cases, but it can be better managed through communication and coordination with a primary care doctor.
While people might realize they need a doctor, they might not know how to find one.
“For starters, good old-fashioned word of mouth works,” said Ziari. Both doctors agreed the first step to finding a good primary care provider is to talk to people in your community and networks for recommendations. Nurses, neighbors, coworkers and friends can provide valuable insight on who they trust.
“You can also talk to your HR department about which health care providers accept your insurance,” said Ziari.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding a doctor. However, the important thing is for people to just go see one.
“It’s better to start seeing a primary care doctor than not seeing one at all,” said Bekanich. “If you don’t click with somebody, you can always switch later. That’s better than delaying or procrastinating. Even better is to see a primary care doctor before you need one.”
Need help finding a primary care physician? Check out Seton’s Primary Care website: https://www.seton.net/primary-care/, or call 1-844-235-8441 to schedule a primary care visit.