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How to Find a Great Primary Care Physician

George Dichter, MD Physicians

This month, medical practice offices, hospitals and many other types of facilities will be commemorating Doctors’ Day 2015. The observance started on March 30, 1933, and was officially recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1958.

The medical society auxiliary in Georgia that created the first Doctors’ Day chose the date because it is the anniversary of the first use of anesthetic in surgery on March 30, 1842. Doctors’ Day is an opportunity to recognize physicians for the work they do every day of the year to save lives and keep people healthy and well.

It is also an excellent time to evaluate the role physicians play in your life and your family members’ lives. In particular, I encourage you to think about getting a primary care physician if you don’t already have one.

A primary care physician is your “go-to” doctor—the person whom you make first contact with when you have a health concern, need a physical or have routine medical issues that require a physician’s input. He or she is also the doctor who will manage and coordinate care for any ongoing health issues or chronic conditions you have.

If you need a primary care physician or are looking to find a new one, here are some characteristics to consider:

  • Your primary care physician should be a good listener. He or she should take the time to allow you to fully explain your health concerns. You go to your physician for a reason, and he or she should be ready to act as a sounding board for you.
  • Your primary care physician should follow through. Your doctor or someone in his or her office should ensure that all of the recommended medications, tests and other orders are completed. Doing so may involve a follow-up phone call with you and/or a follow-up office visit.
  • Your primary care physician should be available. Because your primary care physician is your gateway to other care you may need, he or she should have office hours that accommodate your schedule and enough flexibility to get you in quickly when your need is urgent.
  • Your primary care physician should be comfortable with new technology. Computers and the connectivity they bring are revolutionizing the world, and the medical profession is no exception. Your physician’s office should be using electronic medical records and have at least a basic ability to interface with you online.

So how do you go about finding a physician? A good place to start is your local hospital. Simi Valley Hospital, for instance, has a physician referral telephone line (805) 955-8000and a physician locator on the Simi Valley Hospital website.

The most common way primary care physicians get new patients, however, is by word of mouth. Talk with your friends, family members, co-workers and others you socialize with. Ask them who their primary care physician is and what they particularly like about him or her.

Once you have a physician or two in mind, don’t hesitate to call their offices and ask questions—including insurance-related questions. If physicians or their office staff are unwilling to talk with you, that is a red flag from the beginning.

Most physicians will be willing even to have an appointment with you just for you to get to know him or her better. In most cases, you’ll be billed for an office visit, but it is money well spent to find the right physician for you and your family.

Speaking of which, there are several different categories of doctors who can act as your primary care physician:

  •  Family practice physicians generally take care of all genders and ages.
  •  Pediatricians can act as the primary care physician for children.
  •  Gynecologists (and OB/GYNs) care for all ages of women.
  •  Internists care for all ages of adults, but particularly older adults.

If you’re using a hospital emergency room or medical specialists to care for your health needs, I urge you to connect with a primary care physician. Your health care will be both less expensive and better coordinated. It is truly worth the time and effort to find a good primary care physician who can serve your needs and those of your family for years to come.

George Dichter, MD, is an internal medicine specialist in Simi Valley and is chief of the medical staff at Simi Valley Hospital.