by Dr. Stan Brewer
An important part of maintaining health is having an established health care provider. Often this is called a primary care provider. I am sure we all know the value of having an establishing provider is you ever get sick. But there are several additional advantages to having a primary care provider.
- Your provider knows you, your situation, and your medical history
- It decreases costs for you and the community
o Without established care, problems can become much worse before they are taken care of or can result in emergency room visits, which are very expensive.
- An established provider can manage chronic conditions and find serious diseases earlier
- Your provider coordinates care with specialists when you need it
- You can enjoy easier access to the doctor when you are sick
o Most doctors keep same day appointments open for urgent medical needs
- By seeing a physician who knows you, your care is more culturally sensitive
- People with established care tend to be healthier
However, many of us do not have insurance and this can make it very difficult to find a primary care provider. There are several affordable primary care clinics in the Portland area, offering medical care at little to no cost (The following link is a map of medical clinics serving low-income people without health insurance in the Portland metro area: Google map medical clinics serving low income people without health insurance. Most of these clinics are accessible with public transportation. For more excellent information on local clinics visit: Coalition of Community Health Clinics (for those outside of the Portland area, type in your search engine community health clinics with the name of your state/city). This website includes a wonderful feature that allows you to find the clinic that best meets your needs. You can also call 211 for more information about resources in the community.
Once you find a clinic that you would like to establish care at, be aware that it is not always as easy as calling and setting up an appointment. Many people can become frustrated trying to get into a local low cost clinic. The process is different at every clinic, but there are some things you can expect and get ready before hand.
1. As a first time patient, you can probably expect to wait 2-3 weeks in most clinics for a first appointment. If you have an acute problem that needs more immediate attention, call and make an appointment anyway. At that appointment, your new primary care provider can ensure your acute illness has been appropriately resolved, and once you have established care, you will likely be able to visit this new provider in the future for acute illnesses.
2. It is important to be persistent when trying to make appointments. Clinics vary as to when openings for new patients become available. If a clinic tells you that they are not accepting new patients, they may be accepting new patients as soon as the morning of the next day. Ask the receptionist when new openings will be available, and call frequently.
3. As many of these clinics are low cost, no cost, or sliding scale, you will likely need to provide proof of income. Helpful documents include:
a. Current pay stubs
b. Most recent W2 tax documents
c. Social Security Benefits documentation
d. Signed letters documenting financial situation (not from family members)
4. You may need to set up a “Financial Eligibility” appointment
5. Most clinics operate during normal weekday business hours (i.e. 8-5), with some variability. Some clinics will only take new patients on certain days of the week or only have a certain number of open slots available for new patients. Call and verify with the specific clinic you are interested in.
6. Some clinics require a cash deposit for uninsured patients to cover medical costs. These are discounted fees.
7. Not all clinics will take insured patients. Please check with your clinic of interest if you do have some form of health insurance.
Establishing care at a clinic can take a little time and effort, but it will be well worth it. With a regular provider you can make sure that any health care need you have are taken care of. Even if you aren’t sick; it can be worthwhile to set up an established care at a clinic by scheduling a regular check up.
A special thank you to my classmates who compiled most of this information.