Your reasons for establishing medical care with a physician could include just having moved to northern Nevada, living on your own for the first time or starting a family. Regardless of the reason, many options in health care providers are open to you.
Start with primary care
To provide most of your medical care and to guide you to the right care for other needs, a primary care physician would be a wise choice. A primary care physician manages your care and arranges for routine screenings, vaccinations and diagnostic tests to help you stay healthy.
The level of care that you need partly determines the type of caregiver you seek. If you need care only for one condition, such as a cold or a sprain, a primary care physician’s office would suffice. If you will need specialty care or follow-up diagnostic service, starting with a primary care physician still makes sense, rather than trying to select a specialist on your own. A primary care physician can make an initial diagnosis and direct you to the appropriate specialist, saving time and money.
When and where do you need care?
Choosing a physician can depend on how soon you need care. If the answer is “right now,” and you have a true medical emergency, go to an emergency room. Remember, however, that an ER is designed to care for conditions that, if left untreated, could result in serious injury, illness or death. The conditions that warrant care in an ER require immediate, intensive treatment. Examples include a heart attack, stroke, serious trauma or severe difficulty breathing.
If a primary care physician is not available and you need care soon (but not as an emergency), you can visit an urgent care center. For example, you might have a sore throat, a cut that needs stitches, a sprain or a urinary tract infection. An urgent care center, however, might not offer follow-up care or be able to refer you to a specialist.
In choosing a primary care physician, you should consider the hours when a physician will be available. Some physicians offer extended hours, thereby delivering the convenience of urgent care and the benefits of primary care.
For your convenience, it helps to know whether you want a physician located close to your home or work. You also need to know whether the physician or his or her group practice has ties to a particular hospital; that might limit your choice, depending on your health insurance coverage.
Know what you want in a doctor
You also have options for primary care besides a medical doctor (MD). Doctors of osteopathy (DO) now receive training quite similar to medical doctors, although they also receive training in bone manipulation.
A nurse practitioner can function as a primary care physician by diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions; managing the overall care of patients from head to toe; prescribing medications and therapies; and ordering and interpreting lab tests, X-rays and other diagnostic tests.
Depending on your preference and need, you can seek care from another type of provider, such as a podiatrist, psychologist, chiropractor or alternative-medicine practitioner.
Your personal preferences in evaluating a health care provider might include the school at which the provider received his or her education; the gender of the provider; the provider’s age and level of experience; ratings for the provider; and recommendations from family members and friends.
When you have weighed all of these aspects of a health care provider and have made your choice, remember that you are your own best health care advocate. If after visiting your provider you determine that he or she does not meet your needs, reconsider these options and make another choice.
Dr. Vance Alm earned his medical degree from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He completed his residency at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. Dr. Alm also has served in both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. Alm Family Medicine, located at 5975 Los Altos Parkway, Suite 100 in Sparks, NV, opened in 2002 and focuses on primary care for all members of the family. Services include primary and preventive care, immunizations, gynecological exams and some minor surgeries and procedures. Call 352-3080 for an appointment.