Ask the Doctor: Why Is Having A Primary Care Doctor So Important?
The role of primary care physician (PCP) has become crucial in the managed
health care landscape. A PCP is often what most people just think of as
“In today’s health care system, the PCP has even more significance,
especially for Medicare patients,” says Torrance Memorial Physician
Network family medicine internist Mary Beth Miller, MD, who is a primary
care physician. “Patients in this age group have more health issues,
as well as limitations in hearing and seeing, dementia and other age-related
What do primary care doctors do?
“We see Medicare patients on a very regular basis,” says Dr.
Miller, “at the very least once a year because of the annual Medicare
Senior Wellness exam. That’s when I go through my patient’s
chart and check for any new allergies or surgeries, any changes in the
family, especially cancer or heart disease because they have a direct
impact on them. We review immunizations, follow up on bone density testing,
screen for depression and dementia.
“We also ask about falls, which can be a big deal when you are assessing
how an older patient is getting along,” Dr. Miller continues. “So
many of these things can fall through the cracks. We look at the whole
patient, not just their hearing or their stomach.”
How does a patient choose a primary care doctor, especially if they are
with a new medical group, or getting Medicare for the first time?
“You have to be able to communicate with your PCP, and if they are
more interested in telling you things instead of hearing you, that’s
a bad sign,” Dr. Miller believes. “We all do better if we
feel we are heard, and when communication is in a style we can identify
with. Doctors are all very good; sometimes it’s just the comfort
level you have. But if you aren’t comfortable with them, don’t
be afraid to change. You have to find that dance partner you can dance
What if you feel your primary care doctor is not a good fit for you?
“Sometimes people will start with a doctor and think they are stuck with
that doctor. Not true,” Dr. Miller explains. “You can always
change. That said, it’s always better the longer you are with one
doctor. They get to know you, know your family and your issues, how you
react to things.”
If I do change, how do doctors keep track of my records?
“This is an issue Torrance Memorial and THIPA are getting better
at, developing a physician’s network that can share information,
a patient’s chart, quickly and efficiently,” says Dr. Miller.
Why not just go straight to a specialist, if you know what’s wrong
with you? You can do that, of course, especially with certain HMOs and medical groups
like THIPA. But Dr. Miller sees the PCP’s role as crucial here,
too. “People think they have their symptoms nailed, and are all
ready to go to a specialist,” she says, “But sometimes a primary
care doctor can get you to who you need to see first, without not going
down all the wrong pathways. There are many symptoms a patient might not
think even about.”
So it really is beneficial to stay with the same doctor if possible?
“Yes, if it is possible,” answers Dr. Miller, “and you
shouldn’t have to change. I think if we ever get serious about health
care in this country, the doctor/patient relationship is key. We get to
know our patients better, which is better for patients and their health.
And that will save money in the long run.”
Need to see a doctor? Contact our physician referral coordinators to schedule
an appointment today. Call 310-891-6717.