Why you should make your primary care doctor your BFF

Let your doctor be an ally for your health
Feb 7, 2019 · Emily Peters
Physician examining a child

How well do you know your primary care physician (PCP)? More importantly, how well do they know you? A lasting relationship with a family physician can make a huge difference in your health over the years. Having a trained physician who knows you means they’re more likely to notice small, potentially concerning changes in your health. Plus, you’re more likely to be honest and open talking to someone you trust. 

“When people don’t have access to a regular primary care provider, they end up in emergency rooms more often, and they’re admitted to hospitals more frequently. Without regular screening, a controllable condition like high cholesterol–which often can be kept in check with common drugs–can eventually lead to a life-threatening heart attack,” reports The Commonwealth Fund

Use these five tips to make your next appointment a relationship-boosting conversation. 

  1. Don’t forget your annual physical. A year can go by way too fast. More than 90% of U.S. residents say it is important to get an annual physical, but only 62% report actually getting one, according to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation. If your doctor’s office offers email or text reminders, sign up. Or add a recurring appointment to your calendar. Another trick is to tie your annual checkup to an easy-to-remember annual event, like your birthday or Memorial Day.
     
  2. Make a date to vaccinate. Annual flu vaccines are another great time to check in with your doctor. You can get the shot at pharmacies and other locations, but it is often more likely to be covered by insurance if you go into the clinic. Flu shots usually start being offered in August, around back-to-school season. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend you get vaccinated early to give yourself maximum coverage for the season but no later than the end of October.
     
  3. Set a baseline. Talk to your doctor about your own health risks and create a plan together for regular blood work that matches your specific needs. Even small progressive changes in these numbers can indicate a health concern to keep a closer eye on.
     
  4. Bring notes. They call it the “white coat effect”–when you get nervous about seeing the doctor and your blood pressure skyrockets. Help reduce the pressure by planning out your health questions and concerns in advance of your appointment. Do you want to talk about your weight? Your plans for having kids? What about a review of the medications you’re currently taking? Or following up on that operation you had? Spending time thinking about your health in advance helps make the most of the short time you might have with the doctor in the exam room.
     
  5. Be honest. Your doctor should listen to your concerns with respect and compassion. If you have a doctor that you don’t get along with or feel uncomfortable talking to, it could be time to look for someone who is a better match for you. You need to find the right personality for the relationship to work well long term.

“The more open you are with your doctor about your health and your goals, the better,” says Hemalee Patel, DO, an internal medicine physician in San Francisco specializing in lifestyle medicine. “Physicians are not there to judge you. They got into medicine to have these kinds of trusted connections with patients. Being honest makes your relationship that much stronger and facilitates a better experience for your doctor as well.”

If you need a new primary care physician, remember that Blue Shield of California offers easy tools online and on our app to help you choose a doctor who is exactly right for your health needs.

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