When it comes to choosing a primary care provider, it’s important to find someone who has the expertise, approach, and communication style that allow you to get the care you need. For a provider to understand all the factors influencing your condition, you must share detailed personal information, so you need a provider you trust, someone you feel you can be open with.
Because primary care providers pay attention to the whole body and to the factors affecting your life, we get a clear picture of what’s happening, which allows us to work with you to create realistic treatment plans or, if necessary, to route you to a specialist.
Primary care providers can be medical doctors or advanced practice providers. Primary care doctors include those in family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. Many obstetricians and gynecologists also provide primary care. Advanced practice providers include nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives.
At MCHC Health Centers and other federally qualified health centers, we work in teams, so patients get the right level of care plus extra support from schedulers, medical assistants, nurses, patient navigators, nurse case managers, and others. We also offer medical, dental, and behavioral health care, so if we see someone in one department who could benefit from care in another department, we can facilitate that care.
Before you choose a primary care provider (or a team of providers), consider what is most important to you. For example, in years past, providers were more directive: they gave recommendations without a lot of back-and-forth discussion with the patient. These days, many providers use a patient-centered approach where we include patients in shared decision-making. Which do you prefer?
As computer technology has evolved, it has changed how patients and providers interact. How do you like to communicate? Once the appointment is over, do you want a doctor who calls you with test results or would you prefer to sign-in to a patient portal?
For many patients, the most important part of the relationship with their provider is a strong sense of connection. Patients want a provider who makes eye contact, listens carefully, asks questions, and encourages them to share what they need and want. Sometimes the best medicine is simply connecting with and feeling valued by another human being, especially during a pandemic when so many people have felt isolated.
As you start looking for a provider, I recommend talking to friends and family rather than reading online ratings. The people who know you best will have a better sense of whether their primary care provider would be a good fit for you. Maybe you want a provider who jokes around. Maybe you want one who is close to your age. Maybe you want one who shares your cultural traditions. Maybe you want a provider who can communicate in your preferred language. Although not all personalities mesh well, most medical providers work well with a wide variety of people. The people who write online ratings, good or bad, may have a completely different set of criteria for judging a healthcare provider.
If you are curious about quality, you should know that federally qualified health centers are held to high quality standards in order to maintain federal funding. We are constantly graded on how well we comply with best practices and safety standards.
If you are concerned about affording care, MCHC Health Centers and other federally qualified health centers have financial counselors who, at no cost, can help you determine whether you qualify for public insurance such as Medicare, Medi-Cal and other programs. If you have insurance, choosing a provider who is in-network will result in the most cost-effective care.
Because there is a shortage of primary care providers in Mendocino County (and across the country), it is best to look for a provider now, before you have an urgent medical need. It’s nice to have an established relationship to lean on during hard times.
Chris Ayeko is a family nurse practitioner at MCHC Health Centers—a community-based and patient-directed organization that serves Mendocino and Lake Counties, providing comprehensive primary healthcare services as well as supportive services such as education and translation that promote access to healthcare. Learn more at mchcinc.org.