When you go to your doctor’s office, you may have noticed that you have seen your doctor but only for a short time at the end of your visit. As a matter of fact, a study showed that doctors spend only a few minutes per patient, including post-visit case work outside the examination room.
Healthcare today is much more complex. It takes a team approach to provide the best care. When caring for patients, primary care practitioners often coordinate treatment across a range of specialists, providers, and facilities. Although led by a physician, the healthcare team is multidisciplinary – this means that it includes a range of supportive and licensed providers who are involved not only in providing care services but also in ensuring access, coordination, and continuity of care to all patients.
You may have also noticed that while you are in the doctor’s office, you actually see a number of different people before and after you see your doctor. Your doctor can’t do it all by him or herself, and there may be many other healthcare providers who have specific roles in helping you take care of your health. These professionals are there to help make sure that you not only get the information you need, but also the best care possible. You just need to know who they are and what they do.
According to Chetna Bhattacharyya, M.D., Senior Director of Medical Affairs at Pfizer, ideally doctors act in the best interest of their patients to maintain their patient’s physical and mental health. These professionals oversee your care by applying their medical knowledge and skills to diagnose, help prevent, and manage diseases and injuries. They also develop a care plan with you.
“Doctors may also refer you to a wide range of other healthcare professionals,” says Dr. Bhattacharyya. For example, if you have a chronic condition or a specific disease, you may need to see one or more specialists. If you have diabetes you may need to see an endocrinologist, a specialist in the endocrine or hormonal system. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may need to see a rheumatologist. Cancer patients see oncologists – these are professionals who specialize in treating cancer. In some instances, your doctor may also refer you to an allied health professional such as a physical therapist to help you recover from an injury or a disease.
The Nurse Practitioner and the Physician Assistant
Because of the time constraints that most doctors face, the role of “physician extenders” has become more prevalent. You may see more and more physician assistants and nurse practitioners in doctors’ offices, outpatient clinics, and hospitals. John Rose, PharmD, PA-C, an Associate Director of Medical Information at Pfizer and a licensed physician assistant explains: “Physician assistants and nurse practitioners typically work under the supervision of a licensed physician to provide patient care. They can examine, diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, order and interpret laboratory tests and other diagnostic procedures within the scope of their practice and license.”
Nurses provide and coordinate patient care by working with a wide array of healthcare professionals. Nurses can perform physical exams, administer medications, gather vital signs, capture any symptoms you may be experiencing, interpret patient information and conduct research. According to Stella Schloss, BSN, CPQA, Director Customer Strategy and Solutions at Pfizer and former quality care manager, nurses play a vital role because they can also help you understand your condition and manage your health, as well as be an advocate for your care. They support the overall efficiency and quality of care provided to patients. Be sure to communicate your symptoms and concerns with your nurse.
Your pharmacist is also an important member of your healthcare team. Learn how to work with your pharmacist in managing your medications, especially if you have multiple prescriptions. Pharmacists can provide recommendations on over the counter medicines and can also provide advice if you need to escalate your concerns to your doctor.
Sraddha Thapa, PharmD, Associate Director of Medical Information at Pfizer and past practicing pharmacist, believes that the pharmacist can be another resource for medical information that you may need regarding your prescriptions or general questions about medications. “In addition to consulting patients on medications, certain pharmacists are trained to provide services such as quitting smoking and blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol management,” says Dr. Thapa. “Please don’t be shy about engaging your local pharmacist with your medical questions or concerns.”
All of these healthcare professionals and others work together to coordinate the delivery of your health care, but the most important member of your healthcare team is you. By participating in your healthcare, taking your medicines as prescribed, and working with your healthcare team, you can improve or maintain your health.
It is OK to ask your healthcare team questions, such as:
- Who is providing your care?
- What are they doing?
- Why are they doing it?
How You Can Work With Your Healthcare Team
We are living in an age where healthcare professionals’ time is short. So, it is recommended that you make a habit of going to your medical appointments prepared.
Here are some ways to do that:
- If you are experiencing symptoms, keep a health journal. Write down what your symptoms are, when they are occurring (in the morning, evening, after exercise) and other important information
- Be ready to share your medical history, along with the conditions that you have been diagnosed with, your medication history, and any procedures you’ve had. You should also know what is in your medical record
- If you have questions, write them down before your appointment
- Educate yourself about any condition you have, and learn about your treatment options by discussing your concerns with your healthcare team and loved ones
- Keep track of the medicines you take, when you take them, and what you are taking them for. Be sure to include any over-the-counter or herbal medications you may be taking
While you might expect to receive care from your doctor only, it may be a nurse/nurse practitioner, a physician assistant or pharmacist providing your care. Keep in mind that sometimes it takes a team of people to help you manage a health condition. Know the key players in your healthcare team, and understand what they do. After all, your health is important and you can’t manage it alone.
Vera Rulon, MS, RHIT, was the Director of Strategic Communications within Pfizer Medical.