Get to know your primary care doctor

Physician speaking with patient

Having a primary care -doctor, or Primary care provider (PCP), is part of living a healthy life. Your PCP is often a doctor [a medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO)].He or she may also be a nurse practitioner (NP) or a physician assistant (PA).1

Your PCP should know you and your health the best. They can help you by suggesting when you need routine care, tests and  help you see specialist doctors if you need to. They can also help you get X-rays, lab tests or more, if you need it.

Your PCP keeps your medical record, which shows your history of care. That means he or she knows when you get things like your flu shot, tests, or if you’re taking medicines. That way, he or she can give you the best care when you're sick. It can also help your PCP work with you to stay healthy as you get older.

Carrying an emergency information card with important health information on it is a good thing to do. The card lists things like medicines you take, any allergies or conditions like diabetes, cancer or high blood pressure. You can also put your PCP's name and phone number on the card. That way, your PCP will be called if you have an emergency. He or she can then help make sure you get the best care.

You may feel more comfortable talking with family or friends – but you may feel nervous or rushed when talking to your PCP. But there are things that can make talking with your PCP easier:

  • Be honest with your PCP. Your PCP wants to help you. Being open with him or her about how you’re feeling can help you know your PCP better. That way, you can get the best care you need because they know how to help you.
  • Be ready for your visit. Write down things you want to talk to your PCP about. Write down how you feel – any symptoms, and for how long you have had them. That way, if you’re asked questions, you'll know what to say. When you’re going to your PCP when you feel sick or you’re hurt, be sure to tell them everything about how you feel.

You might hear questions like:

  • When did your symptoms first start?
  • What makes it better/What makes it worse?
  • Has anyone in your family ever had anything like this before?

If you need help or if you're too sick to think, have a friend or family member go with you. It can be a good idea to take notes on anything the PCP says, especially if he or she tells you to do something.

When you're going to your PCP for well exams (like your yearly physical or Pap test), you should talk to them about your health since your last saw him or her. Your PCP will need to know things like:

  • Do you take any over-the-counter medicines, diet supplements or vitamins?
  • Any changes in exercise or sports activities
  • Any recent falls or balance problems
  • Any visits to the emergency room (ER), urgent care clinics or specialists
  • Any problems with depression (being sad for a long time) or anxiety over life events (life events can be things like a loved one dying, losing a job, etc.)
  • If you got any flu or pneumonia shots or any vaccines
  • Any issues with bladder control

It can also be hard to understand what your PCP asks you to do after your visit. So, before you leave your doctor's office, make sure you know:2

  • How to take any medicine or do any treatments you've been prescribed and how long to take the medicine
  • Go over all of your medicines with your PCP to see if you still need them
  • How long before you should feel better if you’ve been sick or hurt
  • What to do if you don't feel better in a certain amount of time
  • When your next visit is
  • If you need lab tests or X-rays
  • If your PCP wants you to see a specialist and, if so, how soon it should be

There's nothing wrong with writing questions down either. And don't be afraid to ask. That's what your PCP is there for. If you are confused, ask these three questions from the National Patient Safety Foundation:3

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important to do this?

Your PCP is there to help you get healthy and stay healthy. Talking with your PCP in an open and honest way can help you stay healthy because you’re both working together.

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