You have a cold, a sprain, or those seemingly ever-present Texas allergies — where do you go? Urgent care centers and "doc in a box" walk-in clinics (typically located in drug stores and grocery stores) are on practically every corner, but they may not be your best choice for treatment. It's time to get yourself a primary care physician (or PCP).
Don't have one? You should, and Methodist Family Health Centers has five excellent reasons why.
1. All your history, all in one place
Your PCP's office has your full medical records, meaning they know when you last battled bronchitis, if you're up to date on vaccines, and even if your weight or blood pressure have undergone any significant changes. Pre-existing conditions are also top of mind with your PCP, which in turn helps him or her deliver a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. At urgent care, you need to fill out a complete history each time you visit, as your records aren't kept for very long after you leave. If you're feeling rotten, the last thing you want to do is try to remember the date of your last tetanus shot.
2. Allergy alerts
Whether it's latex or penicillin, allergies are important — and sometimes even life-threatening. It's vital that the person treating you be aware if you have any. Visiting your PCP means not having to inform or remind anyone of these, but at urgent care it's the same as with your medical records: you're starting from square one.
3. Your time is valued
Urgent care and walk-in clinics function on a first-come, first-served basis. Yes, some now have apps where you can put your name on the wait list before you arrive, but you're still at the mercy of the other patients and the complexity of their conditions. If you're an established patient with your PCP, however, you'll get an actual appointment time and — depending on the severity of your illness — will most likely be seen at the earliest possible time.
4. Save some cash
It's hard to argue with basic math. Even with insurance, a visit to urgent care is likely to set you back a minimum of $150. If you need further tests or lab work, it's all billed separately on top of that, meaning you could be in for sticker shock when it comes time to check out. There's likely a reasonable co-pay to see your PCP, and labs are typically done in-house. Your PCP can also determine if you need a specialist, rather than only treating a base symptom and sending you on your way.
5. Stay ahead of sickness
How can you avoid all this? Get a physical every year. An important part of tracking your health is identifying potential issues before they become big problems, and seeing your PCP at least once a year for a physical is the best possible start. Ladies, your well woman exam is not the same as a physical, and gentlemen, it's crucial that you get checked out too. No one is invincible (not even you, millennials), so develop a relationship with your doctor to avoid health setbacks.
Want a PCP but don't know where to start? Get a list of general practitioners from your insurance, and identify several potential doctors who meet your own personal criteria (education, training, gender, board certification). A doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) generally focuses on preventative care, while a doctor of medicine (M.D.) mainly treats existing conditions.
Before you call, map out the proximity of their office to your work or home, and decide which is more likely to be your starting point.
When you get someone on the phone, double-check to make sure the doctor accepts your insurance (websites can be out of date) and that they are accepting new patients. If you want one practice to treat your whole family, ask at what age the doctor starts seeing children.