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Patient Guide to Primary Care

St. John Providence Health System has been known for leading-edge health care. Throughout our history, thousands of people, from all walks of life, have benefited from the compassionate, caring tradition that is the hallmark of Providence. We are committed to bringing you the best physicians, health professionals and latest technology to provide the highest quality total care experience.

For many patients, the total care experience begins with their primary care physician, so it’s important to select the one who’s best for you. The medical staff at St. John Providence Medical System includes a wide variety of knowledgeable and experienced primary care doctors. The following information may help you choose one who’s right for you.

Primary care medicine is medical care provided by the doctor who sees you regularly for wellness check-ups as well as minor medical problems, such as colds and flu. Primary care doctors also help you manage chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma.

They develop a continuing relationship with you over the years and thus are more likely to notice changes in your health status. They become part of your life story.

Primary care doctors used to be known under the umbrella term of general practitioner, or GP. They delivered babies, made house calls, performed annual check-ups, helped manage chronic conditions and often tended to patients in their final illnesses.

Today, family practice physicians or general internal medicine physicians, or, for children, pediatricians, regularly perform many of these functions. Many women, particularly during their child-bearing years, consider their obstetrician/gynecologist as their primary care physician.

  • Family practice includes general family care for patients of all ages. Training covers several general medical disciplines, such as general internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery and psychiatry. There is a board certification process for family practitioners.
  • General internists diagnose and treat illnesses in adults. In addition, they provide a spectrum of preventive health care and management of chronic conditions for their patients.
  • General pediatricians treat children from birth through their teens. They provide well-child check-ups, acute care and management of chronic conditions.
  • OB/GYNs specialize in women’s health and have particular expertise in pregnancy, childbirth, and disorders of the reproductive system. This includes preventive care, prenatal care, detection of sexually transmitted diseases, Pap test screening, and family planning.

In addition to physicians, many medical practices include physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs).

  • PAs are licensed or credentialed to practice medicine with physician supervision. They conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, write prescriptions and do patient education and preventive health care.
  • NPs are registered nurses with advanced training and clinical education who can provide complete physical exams, diagnosis and treatment (usually non-surgical) of common. conditions and illnesses, interpret lab results, prescribe and manage medications and other therapies, and refer patients to other health professionals as needed.

Both of these professionals are qualified to provide much of the patient’s day-to-day care and can improve access to health care in many areas that may experience a shortage of primary care doctors. Check your insurance plan to see whether it covers services provided by PAs and NPs.

Primary care doctors are trained to see the big picture when it comes to your health; they are patient advocates and your partner in health care. They should be both your first contact with the health care system and the continuing care provider who knows you, your health status, your lifestyle, and often your family.

In addition to diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic health conditions, he or she can also help prevent disease, maintain your health, provide counseling and education, and recommend consultation or specialist referrals when appropriate.

Primary care doctors deal with the diagnosis and treatment (usually non-surgical) of common illnesses and medical conditions. Your doctor will interview you about any current symptoms you may be experiencing, ask you about your medical history, and follow up with a physical examination.

Primary care doctors are trained and have experience interpreting basic medical tests, such as blood work, urinalysis, electrocardiograms and x-rays, but they may refer you to specialists for more complex diagnostic procedures.

The time to see a primary care doctor is before you need one. The most effective primary care doctors are those who have a continuing, established relationship with their patients and are aware of the many lifestyle and family factors that can affect your health status.

You should see your doctor once a year for an annual check-up, and any time you have a health concern or unexplained symptoms. Your primary care doctor is trained to diagnose and treat most common diseases and medical conditions, as well as refer you to specialists when appropriate.

Many specialists (and many insurance plans) require a referral from your primary care doctor, so he or she may be the best place to start. If your primary care doctor feels your symptoms require further evaluation or more specialized testing, he or she will refer you to the appropriate specialist.

If you think a second opinion is indicated, discuss it with your primary care doctor; he or she can often help the referral process go quickly and smoothly for you. If your insurance does not require referrals, you may prefer to go directly to the specialist; for example, if you have a mole that concerns you, you may go to a dermatologist.

Be sure to check your insurance coverage to make sure specialist care is covered. If you go to a specialist without a referral, be sure to have the doctor send a report of the findings to your primary care provider

One benefit of having a regular primary care provider is that the doctor is familiar with you and your medical history and has your medical records available for reference.

  • Take with you a list of all your medications, including any nonprescription drugs, supplements or herbs, and a list of medical conditions you have currently or have had in the past.
  • Write down any questions you have, and a list of your symptoms, including where they are, how long they last, what seems to bring them on, what aggravates or relieves them.
  • Bring any reports/results of recent tests, especially any ordered by another doctor.
  • Write down dates and results of any routine screenings, such as mammograms, PSA, colonoscopy, etc.
  • Be open and honest. Your doctor can’t make an accurate diagnosis without all the facts. Ask questions if you don’t understand something.
  • Ask about treatment options, including risks, benefits, and side effects.
  • If medication is prescribed, ask what it’s for, what side effects are possible, and whether it can interact with other medications you take.
  • If the doctor orders tests, ask what they’re for, why they’re necessary, what to expect, how to prepare (e.g., fasting for blood work).
  • Always ask about test results; don’t assume all is well if you don’t hear from the doctor’s office.
  • Educate yourself about your condition and your medications, using trusted sources from your doctor or reliable and respected Web sites. Your doctor may be able to point you to those sites.
  • Have an annual physical exam and any recommended routine screening tests.
  • Do you prefer to deal with a doctor whose communication style is warm and friendly or more formal?
  • How easy is it to reach the doctor?
  • Is the office staff friendly, helpful, and good about returning calls?
  • Is the doctor’s focus on treating disease or on wellness and prevention? Does it match your own health care philosophy?

Ideally, you will have a long-term relationship with your primary care doctor. Asking friends and family you trust for recommendations may be a good place to start.

We can help you find the right doctor in the right location for you and your family. For an appointment or referral to a St. John Providence Health System physician, call 1-866-501-DOCS (3627). Our call center representatives can give you basic information to help you decide, such as the doctor’s board certifications, educational background, office locations, hours, insurances accepted, and languages spoken.


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