Most likely your family physician’s never visited you at home.
And there’s a good chance that if you had a wound that needed to be closed, she wasn’t the one who did the stitches.
Ditto for taking any X-rays you might have required. Actually, you’re lucky if you even see the family doctor these days — oftentimes you meet with the nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
But your family physician is still the first responder if you’re not feeling well.
“The time to establish a relationship with a doctor is when you’re healthy,” said Jenny Englerth, executive director at Family First Health, a health center with locations in York, Hanover and Gettysburg. “Even though our whole region is blessed to have options, I’ve seen people delay care,” she said, because of financial worries or because they’re in good health.
For some people who are generally healthy, options such as urgent-care centers — like MedExpress, Concentra, Hanover Hospital Express Care and some WellSpan facilities — provide walk-in medical care on an as-needed basis.
Dr. Dheeraj Taranath, medical director of MedExpress in southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, said more often than not, the patients MedExpress sees do not have a family doctor. But the centers emphasize a family doctor is still important.
“We’re like a gateway to family care,” Taranath said. “We will treat someone without a family doctor, then can try to get them set up with one.”
Role of a 2013 family doctor
Dr. Taranath said today’s family physician provides a “medical home” for patients — someone who coordinates their care, surgeries and specialist visits. With fewer doctors interested in becoming family physicians and fewer patients thinking they need one, less preventative measures are being taken.
While a report released in July 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the “medical home” model does not necessarily reduce costs, it does provide efficiencies in care.
In 2009, a CDC study reported “the common denominator in the failure to deliver services is probably lack of physician time. The time required to deliver recommended primary care is almost three times what is available per physician,” which is why physicians depend on assistants, nurse practitioners and those urgent-care facilities.
Taranath said family doctors will send patients to MedExpress to get flu shots as a timesaver or to avoid delays found in hospital emergency rooms. All patients can expect to be in and out of MedExpress in an hour, he said.
Despite urgent-care facilities’ conveniences, though, don’t expect family care to go away or become less important in coming years, Taranath said.
“You can’t have a health care system without primary care.”
Finding the right physician for you
Family care is very relationship-driven, said Dr. Wanda Filer, of Spring Garden Township, who serves on the board of the American Academy of Family Physicians. While specialists you see might be on a short-term basis, family doctors are usually for the long haul, she said.
The challenging part of meeting family doctors is that you typically must become a patient, transferring all medical history, before making a first appointment. Filer, who also sees patients at Family First Health’s George Street and Hanover locations, suggests giving the practice at least two tries before deciding to transfer.
“Don’t make a decision after the first visit,” Filer said. “None of us should be judged on a one-time encounter. We might have 15 minutes” to make an impression.
Filer said if the relationship continues to go poorly, talk with the practice manager — to help decide whether it’s the doctor’s fault or office communication.
To find a doctor, talk with friends and neighbors — especially if you’ve recently moved to a new area. If you’re close to family, consider the opportunity to go to the same physician as your parents or siblings. It helps to see multiple generations of a family, Filer said — not only to know health history, but also from a biopsychosocial perspective.
The earlier you establish that relationship with the family physician, the more history she’ll have, Englerth said. You can never be too young — or too healthy — to make that first appointment.