There are plenty of reasons why you might be choosing a PCP, or primary care practitioner. Perhaps you haven’t chosen one yet, and now need or are ready to. You may have recently received a letter from your current PCP letting you know they’re relocating or closing their practice. They may be joining a practice or health system that does not take your insurance.
Or, they may be retiring. As we continue to age, so do our doctors. Research shows that over one-third of physicians in the U.S. will reach retirement age in the next decade. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the rate of retirement among primary care doctors. While we may be happy for our PCPs as they pursue fulfillment in their retirement, many adults 65+ are left feeling uncertain that they can find a worthy replacement.
Most people seeking a new PCP will take a traditional route. They’ll check to see who takes their insurance, review ratings and find out if a PCP is accepting new patients before making a decision. When you’re 65 and older, there are additional steps you can and should take — steps that are often missed — that will ensure you get the healthcare and aging experience you want and deserve from your practitioner.
Primary care practitioners should be an anchor in our aging experience. Your PCP should help you anticipate and address the normal changes the body goes through so you can remain independent and do more of the things you love. You deserve more than someone to call when you need a prescription refill. You want to find a partner who is an expert in this stage of life to help you navigate your healthcare journey, someone who keeps your goals, values and preferences top of mind.
When choosing a PCP, begin by noting what you’ve appreciated most about the practitioners and healthcare professionals you’ve had in your life. How have they made your experience convenient and comfortable? Have they spent time getting to know you? Have they shown respect for you and supported your decisions about your care?
As you look for a new PCP, think about what you wish were better about your aging experience. Think about how your PCP can help you achieve those goals by incorporating them into your care plan. You should expect your primary care practitioner to not only understand the unique changes that take place as you age, but consider your values and goals just as strongly as they consider your clinical health.
The role of the primary care practitioner has faded for many people 65+. They will only see their PCP once a year for an annual wellness visit, and rely primarily on their specialists for the majority of their care. This trend has had disastrous outcomes. Older adults who use a specialist as their main doctor have less care coordination, spend more on healthcare and experience more frequent hospitalizations.
You should expect to have a closer relationship with your PCP. Your health and aging experience is your own. It is your practitioner’s job to answer questions you have about your health, to help you navigate decisions about your care and to support you on your journey. Your practitioner should be a partner at all times, supporting your preventative care when you’re healthy (and working to stay that way!), and when you’re unwell, supporting your treatment.
As you think about the relationship you want with your PCP, think also about your network of care. Do you value having a dedicated team that gets to know you and coordinates your care?
For instance, with Patina, you are assigned a PCP and what we call a “health champion,” who answers your questions, coordinates with any specialists and ensures care runs smoothly. We bring in experts in areas like mental health when you need it. We invite family and loved ones to be part of your care, as much or as little as you and they prefer. Consider the value of having a team to focus on you as a whole person.
The physician shortage has had a profound impact on the way we experience healthcare. People across the country are experiencing delays of weeks or sometimes months just to get an appointment. For adults 65 and over, these appointments can sometimes take up the better part of an entire day – sometimes just for a 15-minute follow-up. As we age, our health needs become greater and more frequent. Juggling multiple appointments at various doctors’ offices becomes a greater challenge.
Healthcare should be convenient and accommodating, and today, there are more options for receiving primary care than ever before. That includes seeing and speaking with your care team in person, over the phone, on video chats and through mobile messaging. Many communication methods are available now, which can alleviate barriers to getting the care you want.
Look for providers who are willing to meet you where you are. Do you value convenient access from the comfort of home, on your desktop or mobile phone for a virtual visit? Do you value in-person visits in an office or your own home? Maybe you prefer a combination, so you have more flexibility and convenience depending on your care needs.
What about questions that come to mind in your day to day? Would you like to be able to message your care team day or night, and get an answer? Prioritize the care modalities and communication methods that matter most to you.
Whether you’re expecting it or not, the loss of your PCP can be confusing. Losing a PCP can often feel like losing a trusted friend or family member. This shouldn’t keep you from getting the care you need: The role of a PCP is critical to your health and well-being, especially if you’re 65 or older. Choosing a new PCP is an opportunity to embark on the aging experience you want and deserve.
If you want to learn more about the Patina experience of primary care, feel free to join one of our virtual info sessions or call our care team. They always love hearing from new people! Our phone number is 855-478-8310.