This Issue

Primary care

Honesty at heart of good medical partnership

Your primary care provider — the CEO of your health care

Q & A

A closer look

To check a particular doctor’s background, contact the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine at (800) 377-0550 or visit

The profile will give:

• Date of licensure in Massachusetts

• Education and training (residency)

• Medical specialties

• Board certification(s)

• Professional information

Address and telephone number
Insurance plans accepted
Hospital affiliations
Availability of translation services

• Awards, research and publications

• Malpractice claims paid, hospital discipline and criminal convictions in the past 10 years

• Disciplinary actions of the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine in the past 10 years

A closer look

Types of primary care providers

Personal health journal

The right choice

Types of primary care providers

  • Internist — treats adults of all ages

  • Pediatrician — treats children from birth to age 18

  • Family practitioner — treats the entire family regardless of age

  • Geriatrician — treats elderly people with complex and multiple diseases

  • Gynecologist — treats females usually of child-bearing age

  • Nurse practitioner and physician assistant — provide primary care under the supervision of a doctor

Personal health journal

A personal health journal — a handy tool for both you and your doctor — is simply a collection of information about your health that you gather and manage. The journal should include not only the names and numbers of your doctors, but lifestyle goals as well. Your health information should be accurate, detailed and current.

A health journal should include:

  • Illnesses and injuries
  • Hospitalizations
  • Surgeries
  • Diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and scans
  • Screening tests
  • Treatments and procedures
  • Allergies
  • Immunizations
  • Medicines, including exact name and dosage
  • Over-the-counter vitamins and supplements
  • Family history of diseases

Be sure to include dates. For instance, if you are hospitalized, make note of the date admitted and the date of discharge. Be specific. If you have had abdominal surgery, specify the type. You do not need to include minor illnesses, such as coughs and colds. Take your journal to your doctor’s appointments.

For more information on developing a family health history

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer
Awareness Week is May 8 – 14.

Photo by Vannessa Carrington/Mass. Eye and Ear

Get screened for head and neck
cancer. It’s free, quick and painless.

Boston Medical Center
Moakley Building Lobby
830 Harrison Avenue
Date: April 2
Time: 8 a.m. - noon

Tufts Medical Center
860 Washington Street
Date: May 12
Time: 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Mass Eye and Ear
243 Charles Street
Date: May 13
Time: TBA
Dedham Family Dental
Dr. Helaine Smith
30 Milton Street, Dedham
Date: May 11
Time: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Mass General Hospital
Voice Center

One Bowdoin Square,
11th Floor
Date: May 13
Time: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Remember to call ahead to confirm
time and date
of screenings.

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The right choice

Finding the right primary care physician for you is not always easy and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is one of the most important relationships you will ever have. This is the person who will monitor and direct all your care. You need to be sure. There are many factors to consider.

Your primary care provider —
the CEO of your health care

If you’re making a list and checking it twice this holiday season, why not jot down a few ways to improve your health? Let’s see — there’s quitting tobacco, exercising regularly, eating well, losing extra pounds, getting enough sleep, defusing stress and taking medicine as prescribed. If this looks a tad too ambitious, don’t despair. Your primary care provider can help you select one healthy goal and recommend steps that will set you on a path toward achieving it.

Who are your primary care providers?

Primary care providers (PCPs) are medical professionals trained to handle common injuries and health problems. They act as a hub for all of your medical information, too. That’s true whether you come to their offices, get referred to a specialist, go elsewhere for tests or take an unexpected trip to the hospital. By providing this oversight, a good PCP helps ensure that your health care isn’t fragmented.

Often, PCPs work in a team. Heading it up might be an internal medicine doctor (internist) for adults, a pediatrician for children, a geriatrician for older people or a family practitioner who can help children and adults. Also, you may find a registered nurse or nurse practitioner with training in a particular area, such as pediatrics or internal medicine. Social workers, pharmacists and other clinicians may be team members, too.

The best primary care strives to focus on the whole person, rather than responding to health needs illness by illness. Central to this philosophy are wellness care and preventive health measures, such as vaccines that prevent illness, appropriate tests and exams and advice on self-care and healthy habits that you can apply at home. Long-term health problems, such as heart disease, obesity and depression are treated, too. So are acute illnesses and injuries like pneumonia or a sprained ankle. Referrals to specialists and community services are made as necessary.

What is a
medical home?

A fresh concept in health care is the patient-centered medical home (PCMH or “medical home”). It builds on the existing strengths of primary care practice. Contrary to what you might picture, a medical home is not the office you visit to see a doctor. Much as described above, it’s a comprehensive team approach that can be shaped to address most of your health issues.

Care differs depending on your health needs, values, culture and preferences — even your family situation may come into play. Electronic medical records and extended hours of availability are the norm, speeding access to care and advice.

Although this sounds like costly concierge medicine, it’s not. Nor does it use gatekeepers to restrict access to specialists as managed care often does.

Demonstration projects of medical homes are being studied in multiple sites around the country. Some early results — fewer hospitalizations and modest improvements in care, according to recent research — are promising.

While you await further developments, you can do much to improve your own health. That’s right: work toward quitting tobacco, exercising regularly, eating well, losing extra pounds, getting enough sleep, defusing stress and taking medicine as prescribed. Your PCP will be happy to help.

Close teamwork among primary care providers is essential. Team members may use electronic health records to store information on medical visits, tests, procedures and treatments. That way, they can share key health information with one another or with any specialist called upon to consult. This helps prevent duplication of tests and procedures, which saves money for you and the whole health care system. Just as important, it keeps you from being exposed to unnecessary risks.

Ways to help you save money

Often, your primary care provider can suggest ways to help you cut costs while getting high-quality health care. Try asking a few simple questions:

Can you prescribe a generic drug?

When your doctor prescribes medicine, ask about generic options. Generic drugs contain active ingredients that are equivalent to brand name drugs and usually equally effective at far less cost.

How will this test or procedure help me?

Has it been done before? If so, is it necessary to repeat it now? It’s true that certain tests and procedures are recommended at regular intervals to see if treatment is needed or check that your current treatment is working well — for example, tests to check blood sugar or cholesterol and triglycerides. Avoiding unnecessary tests or procedures saves you money and exposure to risks, however.

Is there a high-quality, lower-cost site where I can have this test or procedure?

If you need imaging tests, such as an X-ray or MRI, a freestanding lab facility may charge less than a hospital. Ditto for a community hospital versus a specialty hospital.

Want more suggestions? Check your health insurance policy or call member services to learn where else you might cut costs. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts offers a plan with a hospital choice cost-sharing feature. Each hospital listed has met quality benchmarks. Members pay less or more depending on which hospital they choose for certain planned procedures and tests. Interested members can get a list of lower-cost and higher-cost hospitals in their locale by calling 888-636-4808 or checking online at