We have amazing medical capabilities today. Our ability to ease suffering, fight disease and prolong life is growing by leaps and bounds. However, for all of the medical miracles going on, navigating this system just seems to get more and more difficult as the rules and guidelines are constantly changed by researchers, specialty organizations, insurers and government.
What can we do to make it easier? Well, I don’t have any desire to discuss the politics of it all, but from experience I can certainly make a suggestion. One of the most important things patients can do is have a primary care physician. By having a primary care doctor — that is, an internist, family practice physician or pediatrician — many of the twists and turns of modern health care can be avoided or simplified.
Primary care offices understand how to deal with insurance companies and make referrals to specialists. They can also help patients engage with social services when necessary and can provide everything from episodic care for acute injuries to preventive and end-of-life care for their patients.
From the standpoint of this emergency physician, it’s always wonderful to be able to discuss a patient’s needs with a caring, informed primary care provider. Often, from the top of their medical heads, they can tell me more about a person than stacks of records faxed from a hospital.
Many of life’s medical issues, even medical crises, can be averted or treated by the family physician and other primary care types. This is not only simpler, but often more efficient and cost-effective than a trip to the urgent care, the ER or a specialist.
The thing is, it takes a little planning. So, if you don’t have your own doctor, go and start working to find one. I mean it — go ahead and do it now! Call the local hospital and ask which practices are accepting new patients. Look at the phone book or search online. Check with your insurance company, or your Medicare or Medicaid guidelines, to see which physicians accept your coverage.
And check around for what we call “concierge” physicians. These are doctors that allow you to pay a yearly fee for nearly constant access to care. Often they don’t accept insurance at all but require cash transactions. It’s very out-of-the-box thinking (even though it’s actually an old idea). But it seems to work extremely well and leaves patients well covered and happy.
I know we don’t have enough primary care physicians. It’s a problem we have to address, as a profession and as a nation. But if you can get one, please do. You’ll be healthier and happier for the effort.