More then just a Doctor…. A Partner in Your Healthcare
Selecting a primary care physician can be one of the most important decisions for the well-being and good health of a patient. Choosing the right doctor early on is important, especially because for many, the relationship is going to be one that lasts a lifetime. Trust should be a major factor in any patient’s decision. “You know that you have the right doctor when you feel comfortable enough to tell him things that you wouldn’t tell anyone else,” said Dr. Raynita C. D’souza, from Gulfcoast MD out of Naples and Ft Myers. “Not only is a patient sharing their height and weight and other personal health information, but I’ve seen patients through divorces, disappointments and serious illnesses, which are all personal matters that should be handled by a trusted physician.”
Additionally, having a primary care physician helps keep a patient healthier as they age. . Studies in numerous medical journals have confirmed this, including one in International Journal of Health Services which revealed that states with more primary care physicians per capita have better health outcomes, including fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease, or stroke. A separate study in the same journal suggests that a surplus of primary care physicians is associated with a longer life span–if you add more primary care physicians to a community, the result is fewer premature deaths.
When Dr. Raynita C. D’souza was asked to comment on the notion that by having a relationship with a primary care physician, the patient may have a longer life span, she explained, “The key is what’s known in the medical community as “continuity of care.” Continuity of care means that a patient establishes a relationship with a health care provider and the relationship enhances year after year. This provider gets to know the patient and their health goals, and helps manage overall progress. Continuity provides tangible benefits that have been proven to add up to better health.”
In the short term, continuity of care dramatically increases the likelihood that the patient will receive a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment. “The best diagnostic test available to a doctor is the test of time,” says Dr. Raynita C. D’souza . “A primary care physician gains valuable information from tracking a problem over time –whether for a week, two weeks, or a month–and can make treatment decisions accordingly.”
Over the long term, a provider who knows the health history, habits, and personality of their patient can more easily recognize signs that indicate a potential change in their health. For example, if the patient complains of fatigue to a doctor who doesn’t know them, they might not be taken seriously – but the primary care doctor will be able to see that the patient may not be their usual self, and diagnose appropriately.
Another benefit of having a valuable relationship with one’s primary care physician is that they can make appropriate referrals to a specialist. A skillful primary care physician will refer their patients to someone they know and with whom they have a collaborative relationship. If a patient has concerns about getting different suggestions from different specialists, a primary care physician can help sort through and prioritize which suggestions to act on first. “A strong primary care physician has a working relationship with their referrals and keeps track of their patients through those referrals,” assures Dr. Raynita C. D’souza
Another major benefit of setting up a relationship with a consistent provider is the patient can get care more quickly should you they get sick, whether it’s a pesky sinus infection or something more serious. “When one of my patients has established care with me and I have a relationship with them, it’s much easier for us to help them down the line,” says Dr. Raynita C. D’souza. “I know their history, and can often help resolve things over the phone and order ancillary services such as labs, non controlled prescriptions and home health services.”
A patients main objective when looking for a primary care physician should be to choose a provider who can step back and look at the “big picture” of their health–especially during times when a diagnosis is needed. This is what primary care physicians are trained to do. As Dr. D’souza explains, “Any set of symptoms can have a lot of possible explana tions. A primary care physician has to have an open mind, listen carefully, and consider all the possibilities.” Dr. D’souza’s last bit of advice for finding the perfect primary care physician and building a long lasting relationship with them is finding a provider that values a patients input and opinions. “You want to feel like you’re involved in the process of decision-making.” exclaims Dr. Raynita C. D’souza, “It’s not a one-directional relationship, it’s bi-directional,” she says. “The goal of each visit should be to have a level playing field, where one can voice their concerns openly and walk out the door feeling like they were really listened to and they have a plan that’s going to work for them.”
Nurse on Call