Role Of Primary Care Physicians: How to Choose The Right Doctor for Your Needs

By: Dr. Mark Lachs

As we age, we will all need to find a doctor who can provide the right primary care for this new stage of life.  I am frequently asked for advice about how to find a primary care doctor for an aging patient: Where do I start? What attributes or qualities should I look for in a physician?  Should I look for superb diagnostic skills? Exemplary physical examination skills?  Exceptional bedside manners and empathy?  It may surprise you, but the answer is, ‘none of the above.’

What To Look For In A Primary Care Physician?

It’s pretty straightforward –you want a doctor who sweats everything: every pill you take, every consultant he sends you to, every test result that comes back, every symptom you experience, no matter how trivial it is. As we age, big and often permanent life-altering problems can arise from neglected medical and social issues. Compounding this is the fact that elderly patients are in a stage of life when it is likely that they are seeing an increasing number of doctors.  In the era of managed care, physician/patient loads are ever-increasing which can lead to shortcuts and carelessness, which can lead to medical errors.

Simple Steps to Help You Make Intelligent Choices About Elder Medical Care

Be on the Lookout for Troubling Patterns of Doctoring:

  • Talking down: The doctor should not have an assumption of informality and intimacy with a new patient.
  • Ignoring the patient: This happens most frequently when a patient is accompanied to the medical visit by someone else. Doctors should talk directly to the patient, make eye contact, and acknowledge them.
  • Interrupting: This happens with patients of all ages, but especially oldsters. There’s evidence to suggest that most patients get interrupted by the doctor within the first minute of articulating their “chief complaint.”
  • Dismissive of complaints: Physicians increasingly tend to minimize elderly problems and attribute them to just getting old. Your doctor should thoroughly evaluate any complaints before you decide you have to ‘live with it.’
  • Quick to refer, test or prescribe: In order to deal with patients that take up too much time, doctors will write a prescription or send them to another doctor to more save time.

Things You Can Do to Ensure the Best Physician-Patient Encounter

Plan your Doctor’s Appointment Accordingly Ahead of Time:

  • Articulate your chief complaint: Clearly, state the reasons why you sought out treatment. Even if you can’t tick off specific symptoms, note whatever functional problems you’re having.
  • Organize your thoughts before the doctor visit: This is key in understanding the patient’s medical history so an accurate diagnosis can be made.
  • Prioritize your complaints: Office visit time is precious – pick your top three complaints.
  • List all “interval events”: Mention to the doctor all of the important things that have happened since the last visit, such as infections, hospitalizations, surgeries, as well as life events that can influence health (like loss of a job).
  • Bring a list of your medications: This list should be up-to-date and complete, including dosages and frequencies.
  • Get a specific follow-up plan: At the end of the visit, you should leave with ‘action items’ that need to be followed up on, such as further testing, doctor referrals, or changes in medication.
  • Get the doctor to be transparent: Make sure the patient understands what the doctor is saying before the visit ends – using terminology the patient can comprehend.

And what happens if attempts to follow the guidance above is not fruitful?  Unfortunately, it might be time to seek out a new physician. The good news is that there are many excellent, caring, compassionate and attentive primary care physicians.

25 thoughts on “Role Of Primary Care Physicians: How to Choose The Right Doctor for Your Needs

  • My aunt just moved and she is thinking about finding a new primary care physician and get the best care for her family. It could be really nice for her to get a professional that would have the right experience and specialty to help her handle what may come her way with illnesses. I’ll be sure to tell her that she should choose her top three complaints about what is wrong with her health to her doctor.

  • It’s good to know that you should bring a list of up to date medications. Last week my husband and I moved to a new town and I need to find a doctor soon because I have a couple of medical issues that need to be taken care of. I’ll make sure to keep this information in mind as I search for a doctor.

  • I liked that you mentioned you need to organize your thoughts when you are visiting your doctor to help him perform an accurate diagnosis. My sister is new in town, and we are looking for advice to help her choose the right physician. I will let her know about your recommendations to help her choose the right physician for her.

  • I like what you said about clearly telling your doctor what problems you’re having for the best results. My brother has been telling me about how he wants to make sure that his family gets the best care possible in the coming year. I’ll share this information with him so that he can look into his options for doctors who can help him with this.

    • So glad this post provided you and your family with useful information. For even more information, you can refer to Dr.Mark Lach’s book, “What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Aging”.

  • So glad this post provided you and your family with useful information. For even more information, you can refer to Dr.Mark Lach’s book, “What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Aging”!

  • It’s good to know that you shouldn’t find one who interrupts you. My sister just recently moved to a new state, and she was telling me last night about how she needs to find a doctor soon because she’s been feeling really sick lately. I’ll make sure to pass these tips along to her so that she can know how to find the right doctor for her!

  • I hadn’t realized that it could be a good idea to bring a list of your medications with you to the doctor. My wife and I were told by a family friend that they were able to cure their flu symptoms by getting an IV treatment, so we are looking to do the same when we get sick. When we find a doctor to do it, I will be sure to bring a list of medications that we take with us to their office.

  • As you mentioned, you want a doctor who puts their full heart into every diagnosis that they give you, or your children. We just moved to a new city, and don’t have a primary care doctor yet. I will have to keep these tips in mind as I look for one.

  • I hadn’t thought about bringing a list of my medications when I would go to a new doctor, so I appreciate that you mentioned it. My wife and I have been talking about finding a doctor to help us with our family. My son is having back pain, so he especially needs one. When we go, I will be sure to bring a list of our medications.

  • It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d certainly donate to this brilliant blog!
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    • Thank you for reading and taking an interest in our blog. It’s nice to know that the topics are of interest to you and your friends.

  • Hiya, I am really glad I have found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish only about gossips and net and this is actually irritating. A good blog with interesting content, this is what I need. Thanks for keeping this web site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can not find it

  • Thank you for sharing that it is important to choose a family physician who will know how to handle the medicines without any hiccups. My parents are in need of a family physician to attend to them at home. I will forward this article to them.

    • Thank you for reading our blog. You may be interested in Dr.Mark Lachs book (the author is the blog) – What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Getting Older. Dr.Lachs is a CoFounder of CompassCare and the Director of Geriatrics at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

  • I think you made a great suggestion there about prioritizing our complaints so that we can make the visit to the doctors’ a smooth process. My husband and I recently brought our mother to stay with us since my father passed away and we don’t want her to be living alone. I think that I will look for a primary care doctor for her nearby so that she can go for her checkups and followups.

  • Thanks for the tip to find a doctor who can be transparent and explain things so the patient understands them clearly. In my opinion, those who need help finding a good doctor should use a healthcare advocacy group who will have experience and knowledge bout the practices and communication methods of different treatment professionals. I enjoyed reading your article and learning more about the role of primary care physicians, so thanks for sharing this info!

  • I am moving to a different area next month. I want to find a new GP to go to right away because I have been having some issues with sleeping and anxiety lately. It is good to know that I will want to consider trying to organize my thought before going to the doctor’s office. That way, I am easily understood and can have better time communication with the new doctor I find.

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