Establishing care is the process of beginning a long-term relationship with a single primary care provider (PCP) that will be your trusted source for all your day-to-day medical needs. By teaching you ways to manage your health, treating a wide range of illnesses and injuries and helping you access specialty care when you need it, your PCP can help ensure your well-being long into the future. The first time you see your PCP, the appointment will be billed as “establishing care.”
The importance of annual wellness visits
Even when you’re feeling fine, it’s important see your PCP for an annual wellness visit. It’s one of the most important ways you can optimize your current health and catch any concerns early on, so they don’t develop into something more serious down the line.
During your visit, your PCP will usually record your height, weight and vitals, take a blood and/or urine sample, provide any needed vaccinations and perform a physical exam. Depending on your particular risk, age and gender, your PCP may also perform specific screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, osteoporosis, diabetes, cervical cancer or STDs.
Even if you’re healthy and have no physical issues, it’s important to get annual wellness exams. You can gain valuable information that will help you stay on top of your health.
Preparing for your visit
Before your wellness visit, you’ll fill out a medical history form. So, it’s important to gather all information regarding your medical history ahead of time, including:
- Past medical records and test results
- Vaccination history
- List of current medications and supplements
- Notes about any allergies or symptoms
- Records of previous surgeries
- Family medical history
- Any other questions or concerns
- Your health insurance member ID card
After reviewing your form, your provider will talk to you more in depth about your medical history and ask about your lifestyle (e.g., diet, alcohol and tobacco use, exercise habits, etc.). This can help reveal other types of issues that may need to be addressed.
The provider-patient relationship
Your annual visit is the perfect opportunity to be candid with your PCP about your health. Keep in mind, while the Affordable Care Act ensures annual wellness visits are provided at no cost, there could be a fee if you ask to discuss a particular concern — so make sure to ask your PCP at the start of your visit what you may talk about, so your wellness visit stays free. You can always make a follow-up appointment to address other issues.
By establishing a long-term relationship with your PCP, you’ll build a foundation of trust, enabling you to feel more comfortable opening up about intimate or embarrassing topics. That’s why it’s so important to have these types of conversations with a PCP. In fact, according to the Match Made in Medicine study performed by Zocdoc, 70% of patients feel more comfortable discussing embarrassing symptoms with a long-term provider than one they just began seeing. In addition, four out of five patients are more likely to accept advice from a doctor they already know and trust.
Dr. Donald Rebhun puts it this way, “Everyone gets scared when they are faced with a health issue, even doctors themselves. Making sure there is a two-way dialogue and that both the patient and doctor are being heard and understood is important.”
The value of a shorter wait time
The best time to establish care with a new PCP is when you’re feeling well — so if you get sick, you’ll already have a relationship and a path for getting help. Getting care when you really need it can be more challenging if you don't already have an established PCP. What’s more, since your first appointment usually takes the longest, subsequent shorter appointments at a later date will be much easier to schedule.