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Choosing the right medical specialist starts with your PCP

Doctors provide insight on what they tell patients

Older adults are seeing more specialists than ever before. In fact, Medicare beneficiaries are two times as likely to see a specialist today as they do their primary care physician, according to a study published in November 2021 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

That study says nearly a third of older Americans are seeing five or more different doctors each year. When it comes to coordinating their care, that’s becoming especially challenging for older Americans.

How can you make the best choices when picking the right specialist? Your physician will provide guidance on how to avoid common mistakes and put you on a path to better health outcomes. Here are some questions to consider:

Q. Is it a problem that people are seeing all of these specialists?

A. The problem isn’t whether a patient should see a specialist; it’s whether the specialist communicates effectively with the patient’s regular family doctor to help ensure effective coordination of care. The more specialists a patient sees, the more complicated it becomes to manage care, and that can affect the quality of the care they receive.

Q. What are the common mistakes people make when choosing a specialist?

A. One of them is speaking to friends and family when trying to find a specialist and not talking about it with your primary care physician. It’s concerning that the percentage of medical appointments with your primary care physician is dropping. Study researchers have found that when the primary care physician is at the center of health care, patients have better health outcomes at a lower cost. We know, if the recommendation for a specialist comes from your primary care physician, they have a history of good, timely communication with each other. Your PCP probably knows whether the specialist uses high-quality facilities and has a track record of good patient outcomes. Each member of the team has full access to your health picture and needs. Not only that, they can also make sure that the specialist is part of your coverage plan.

Q. When should someone see a specialist?

A. If you are managing a chronic condition, it definitely makes sense to have a specialist as part of your care team. If you’ve received a new diagnosis, that might also be an important time to consider a specialist. Most importantly, that’s a question you should be asking your primary care physician. That’s the best way to make sure you receive coordinated, compassionate care.