How do I reestablish care if my primary care doctor leaves?

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We always hope to be in excellent health, and it's important to maintain a relationship with a primary care provider to do so. Having someone to call when the unexpected happens or when you need your regular check-ups or exams is helpful and creates a stress-free feeling. Being established with a health care provider simply means you're up to date on routine needs and have someone you see regularly. 

A primary care doctor is an essential resource for individuals and families. They're your go-to doctors for regular exams and follow-ups, explains Emily Hill Bowman, MD, Nebraska Medicine internal medicine specialist. 

Through regular visits and conversations, primary care doctors get to know you on a personal level, learn your medical history, and develop a trusting doctor-patient relationship.  When your doctor retires or leaves your local health center, it can be difficult to re-establish that relationship with someone new. While it might be tempting to wait until a health concern arises to find a new provider, there are many good reasons to act sooner rather than later. 

"If you have something new pop up like a sprained ankle or a migraine, you should have someone you can go to," says Dr. Hill Bowman. "You're not left in the dark or waiting months to get in for an appointment when you need something."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen more patients needing to re-establish care because of career changes and changes to the ways and times people work, Dr. Hill Bowman continued. Going a long period without seeing a primary care doctor means that a medical condition can potentially go undiagnosed or progress more than it needs to. Patients can fall behind on cancer screenings, mammograms and more. 

So how can patients get re-established with a new provider and stay up-to-date on their health?  

"Sometimes you can use your previous doctor or provider's clinic to ask for referral options or to see if they've replaced the doctor," explained Dr. Hill Bowman. "Different medical organizations can be a good resource to see who's accepting new patients. You can also ask family and friends whom they recommend."

Your new primary care provider can be a family medicine doctor, an internal medicine doctor, or an advanced practice provider such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Finding the right one should be based on your personal or family needs. 

Once you've found a new provider, Dr. Hill Bowman says it's best to come to a first appointment prepared with lists of your medical history with dates, surgeries, health screenings, and specialists you've seen. Patients can even bring in their medications for accuracy, and this preparation will help your new provider get up to speed quickly.

After one or more visits with a new primary care provider, patients are considered established. These visits can also include virtual visits, a convenient option when patients cannot come to the office in person. 

While E-Visits or On-Demand Video Visits are helpful for many issues, they shouldn't be a substitute for all clinic visits, however, explains Dr. Hill Bowman. "If you can, meet face to face if you're feeling well for things like a re-establish visit, annual exam, or labs so we can check vitals."

Among other things, patients can expect to go over their medical history, surgeries, family medical history, tobacco use, alcohol consumption and new medical concerns during their first visit with a new primary care provider. 

One of the ways patients benefit from primary care providers is by having personalized treatment plans and someone who knows them and their medical history. Many patients do best with primary care providers with whom they communicate well and feel comfortable. A patient-doctor relationship is paramount to Dr. Hill Bowman in providing the best care possible. 

"One of my favorite things about medicine is getting to know a patient. If I get to know you better as a person, I can take care of you better as a physician. Developing that relationship is one of my favorite parts, and that can help us provide better care."

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