How to Find a Physician
Finding a Physician Suited to You
If you wonder how you can find a physician who has a willingness to connect with you as a human being, is willing to take the time to understand your values, and is someone who knows their own limitations and who wants to be of service to you as an individual, Leslie Michelson’s book, The Patient’s Playbook, is a helpful resource. The book contains a number of important caveats and descriptions about the importance of your primary care physician (PCP) and what to expect. Mr. Michelson begins simply suggesting pretending you are a scout for a major league team. If sports aren’t your thing, think about how you would find the best bridge master to learn from, or how you ask around for a recommendation of a good book to read. The first step in the process is to ask questions; the scout will learn who the best hitter or blocker is, the reader will often find more than one person who suggests the same book and it’s likely you will be surprised to hear the same physician name repeated from more than one source.
To be certain of your choice, dig a little deeper. It is easy to look at the physician’s credentials on-line, check their board certification as well as any awards they have received or medical society leadership positions they have held. Some people also find it reassuring to verify there are no outstanding disciplinary actions. As you go down the information curve, more practical information will become relevant, like office location and office hour times.
Once you have identified your potential physician and have begun to feel comfortable with their expertise, reach out to make an appointment. Often a referral from a friend is helpful to mention when calling for an appointment for the first time. Some physician practices are closed to new patients, but even those practices rarely stay closed forever. Remember you don’t have to stay with the first PCP you see. What you do have to be is an active participant in your own well-being and sell yourself by being prepared, friendly and participatory.
In addition to ideas about finding your PCP, Michelson points out that there are three levels of care each of us will most likely share with our primary provider over the years that are worth understanding from the beginning. The first level is the simplest: ongoing care like physicals, the usual cold or flu, or preventive screenings, etc. This is akin to the honeymoon period where you are just getting to know each other and form a deeper relationship. This step is important, because at some point it is likely you will need the second level of your provider’s care with their committed attention to a serious illness. Sometimes this illness leads to the third level of care, which supports the work of a specialist.
Think of your PCP like the general contractor you would use in building a house to oversee the subcontractors. While many of us might prefer to act as our own general contractor, the danger is that each sub-specialist will only know a piece of you and no medical provider will have the big picture. Given that elderly patients see an average of seven physicians a year across four different specialties, someone needs to keep track! The resulting silo-ism of specialty care without a PCP involved can easily lead to the perfect storm in medicine: over-testing, over-treatment and longer recovery times.