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Do most patients have a primary care physician? In a rather disturbing trend, it appears that there has actually been a slight decrease in the number of Americans with a primary care physician, especially among the younger populations. Despite evidence which shows that receiving primary care is associated with better health outcomes, JAMA reported that only 75% of Americans had a primary care physician in 2015. This number was down from 77% in 2002.

While that might seem like a relatively small decrease, that actually translates to millions of patients without a primary care provider, a number roughly equivalent to the population of New Jersey. The downward trend appears to be continuing, except amongst older members of the population who tend to have more health issues. Mobility, insurance, skepticism about medical providers, and internet self-diagnosis have combined to reduce the reliance on establishing a long-term, one-on-one relationship.

As medical concerns continue to grow and evolve, however, we still believe that there are many good reasons to have a primary care physician you can rely on for support and advice. For patients who are interested in finding a medical partner to work with to help build a healthier lifestyle for themselves and their family, this article provides tips for choosing a new primary care physician.

What Is a Primary Care Physician?

“Staying healthy is more than just going to the doctor when you’re sick.

It’s about having a healthcare team that not only addresses your health concerns and illnesses,

but also takes a proactive approach to helping you stay healthy.”

~WebMD

Creating a healthcare team is where the primary care physician (PCP) comes into play. A PCP is more than just a doctor; he or she is a health care manager and partner who helps patients understand what is happening with their health, and assists them in taking steps to achieve a healthier lifestyle. A PCP is often the first contact patients have with the healthcare system, and the person who serves as a focal point in providing and coordinating care to prevent, treat, and cure medical conditions.

Why is it Important to Have a Primary Care Physician?

A primary care physician works to manage a wide variety of health concerns for patients. Areas which come under the umbrella of primary care include:

  • Health maintenance: steps to take to maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Preventive care: working to stop and prevent illness
  • Illness management: diagnosing, treating and managing common illnesses
  • Early detection: working with patients to schedule regular screenings and assessing risk factors for conditions such as cancer, high blood pressure, or diabetes
  • Chronic care management: Keeping up with patients who have a chronic condition, to maintain their quality of life and manage symptoms.
  • Working with medical specialists: Providing referrals to, and working with, specialists to treat specific health conditions.

At one time, it was common for a patient to stay with a single primary care physician over an entire life span. The physician would know about all aspects of the patient’s health, and be able to provide advice about age-related changes. Patients don’t see a PCP only when they are sick; they also turn to these healthcare professionals for regular assessments, testing, advice, and care.

During the pandemic, however, we actually witnessed a decrease in life expectancy. While this does bear a certain relationship to COVID’s deadly grip, it might also be partially attributed to the decrease in primary care physician relationships. Because of the high degree of partnership between patient and PCP, there is a direct link to increased life expectancy. CreakyJoints, a digital community for arthritis patients and caregivers, reports that patients with a PCP are less likely to die prematurely, and more likely to get recommended screenings.

Steps to Finding and Choosing a Primary Care Physician

There are a number of steps involved in finding and choosing a new primary care physician, including

  • Know Your Insurance: Understand what kind of healthcare coverage you have. There are differences between HMO and PPO policies, and you want to make sure you have a provider whose services are covered by your insurance. Having a provider who is “in network” avoids the possibility of out-of-coverage fees.
  • Type of Doctor: Finding a primary care physician might depend on your stage in life. A younger couple might want to look for a family practice physician, while older patients may search for those with geriatrics or chronic care specialties. Patients with chronic conditions might need to look for an internal medicine practice.
  • Reputation: Ask your circle of friends, or social media contacts, for referrals or information about potential primary care partners. Look online for information about and ratings from professional associations.
  • Convenience Factors: Patients with mobility issues might want to look for a provider in closer geographic proximity, while busy families might need a provider with more flexible office hours. If there are special needs, such as handicap access, or special language considerations, be sure to check those with potential practices.
  • Intangible Factors: Think about things like office appearance, friendliness of staff, and patient communication when selecting a primary care physician.

Technology Considerations When Choosing a Primary Care Physician

While expertly-provided medical care is the top concern, an efficiently-run medical practice can also provide a number of benefits that patients might not see or realize. Some of the technology considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Telemedicine Capabilities: During the pandemic, many patients realized the convenience of the telemedicine experience in facilitating provider/patient visits. If you are open to modern technology, this capability can add another level of convenience to your relationship.
  • Patient Communications: Efficient levels of communication between providers and patients is crucial. Look for a practice with a high-functioning patient portal where you can easily ask questions, schedule appointments, and access information. Also, look for practices that utilize secure email and text communications, and have the ability to securely communicate electronically with medical specialists and testing facilities.
  • EHR Technology: Patients might not realize how important the quality of the Electronic Health Record is to the level of care they receive. A practice with a high-functioning EHR system can foster more helpful patient visits, and provide the physician with a higher degree of access to key patient information.
  • Patient Privacy: Look for a private practice that respects patient confidentiality, and is in full compliance with HIPAA standards in all in-person and technical capabilities.
  • Billing Accuracy: Patients don’t realize how important accurate billing software is until they have to deal with the frustration of inaccurate billing processes or rejected insurance claims.

Amazing Charts Provides Independent Practices with EHR Systems that Improve Patient Care

In 2001, a practicing physician who was familiar with the challenges independent practices and their patient face formed Amazing Charts, to provide efficient solutions to these problems. Today, Amazing Charts offers a variety of capabilities to help small, private practices provide better patient service, including Electronic Health Records (EHR), Practice Management, Medical Billing Services, Population Health, Telehealth, and Remote Care. Providers can call 866-382-5932 or visit our website to learn about our products, schedule a practice consultation, arrange a free trial, and find more information about improving the success of their primary care practice.

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