Have you found “your doctor” yet?
A primary care doctor gets to know you as a person
Everyone at every age can benefit from having a primary care doctor. Someone who knows you over time, knows you as a person and not just a patient. Someone who knows you in the context of your important relationships and can help you get the right care at the right time.
James Welters, MD, Park Nicollet Clinic – St. Louis Park, has practiced family medicine for 25 years in the Twin Cities. He answers some common questions about finding a primary care doctor and building a strong relationship over time.
Who offers primary care?
It can be a doctor, physician assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP). Usually these people practice internal medicine, family medicine or pediatrics. Some gynecologists function as primary care clinicians as well. Other specialties might be in that role, depending on the situation.
Why is it so important to have a primary care doctor?
Numerous medical studies have demonstrated that patients who see a primary care doctor regularly are less likely to be hospitalized or have surgery. They get preventive care (mammograms, colon cancer screenings) more often and their chronic conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure) are better managed. Patients are happier with their care and costs are lower.
Can’t I just go straight to specialists when I’m sick or hurt?
Primary care manages many acute and chronic conditions. When patients need specialists, primary care professionals coordinate with these doctors to ensure the right information is shared and nothing is missed or duplicated. I’ve seen situations where two different specialists unknowingly prescribed the same medicine, or two medicines that interacted with each other, leading to serious side effects. Primary care doctors can also help you find the best person for your condition. You might think your chest pain is from your heart and need to see a cardiologist, but I might recognize it’s more likely acid reflux disease and suggest medication or a visit to a gastroenterologist.
Do you really build relationships with patients and families over time?
One of the benefits of family medicine is the chance to see multiple members of the same family over time. That can be very helpful, for example, when I see Mrs. Jones in the office for chest pain. Because I know her husband recently suffered a stroke and is in a nursing home, I can quickly rule out serious causes and help her with her concerns over his health. I am also able to remind her that she had similar symptoms when her daughter struggled with drug addiction. I don’t need to repeat all the tests that were done then, as they were normal. If I see her son, knowing that his father was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago, I can work with him on strategies to decrease his risk. I can also counsel him on quitting smoking, since I know his wife just had a baby boy.
What are the long-term benefits?
The close relationship that develops between a primary care doctor and patient over time helps in many ways. Very commonly someone will say, “I’ve never told anyone else about that.” People feel comfortable as I’ve demonstrated that I’m trustworthy and care about them. While it’s never easy for anyone when serious illness or death occurs, being with people over many years can help with difficult discussions. I ensure my patients get the right care at the right time.
Find a primary care doctor who is ready to get to know you as a person: