Your primary care physician (PCP) is your partner in health. In general, it is a good idea to stay with your PCP as this is the doctor most familiar with your health history and health requirements. It may be necessary, however, to switch PCPs for reasons such as a change in health plans, if you relocate or if you feel another doctor may better suit your needs.
When you make the decision to change, you should arrive at your first PCP visit armed with a little preparation. Here are six ways to make the most of your visit:
1. Send your medical records ahead of time. This includes surgeries and hospitalizations. If you don't have time to access these records, write down when and where you received treatment so your PCP can request them. Do this a day or two ahead of time. This allows your PCP to become familiar with your medical history and provide better care right away.
2. Write down a list of what you're allergic to and any medications to which you have reacted poorly in the past.
3. Bring in your medications, vitamins and supplements in their original containers. This way your PCP knows exactly what you're taking.
4. Write down your questions prior to your appointment. This is not the time to feel shy.
"For your first visit with your new PCP, I suggest prioritizing your questions into two groups: one, your immediate needs, and two, what can be saved for the next visit," says Dr. Lisa Arian, medical director for Sharp Health Plan. "Your new PCP will be asking you questions as well. I would expect time to have your top few questions answered at your first visit."
5. Take a family member or friend to act as a note taker. Ask him or her to write down any recommendations your PCP gives you. This way you can remain fully engaged in the conversation with your PCP and not miss out by scribbling notes yourself or not taking any notes at all and risk forgetting what was said.
6. Take the time to ask your family members their medical histories and then list it all out before you arrive. This includes any medical conditions of family members and their age of diagnosis.
"Maybe you remember your grandparent had a heart attack or stroke, but don't remember when," says Dr. Arian. "For some diseases, like cancer, the age at which they were diagnosed can help your PCP to identify the best care plan for you. This is why it is important to ask."
For example, a family member diagnosed with colon cancer before the age of 60, or breast cancer before menopause, will influence when your PCP recommends you begin having tests.
To learn more about how to choose a primary care physician, visit the Sharp Health Plan website.