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Go ahead, make the call! See your doctor for better health

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. But keeping the doctor away isn’t a plan for better health! You may wonder when to see your doctor. We’re here to help you decide when to see someone about your physical, dental and mental health, or substance use treatment.

When to see your PCP

Regular visits with your primary care provider (PCP) help keep you healthy. PCPs may be doctors, nurse practitioners or physician assistants. They want to get to know you over time, and often have other team members who will be helping coordinate and support you depending on what you need. That team at your primary care clinic is often called a “medical home” or a “patient-centered primary care home.”

Your PCP also wants to hear your health concerns. If you are sick and need medicine, have chronic conditions that need regular visits — like diabetes or high blood pressure — or if you are just worried about your health, make an appointment. Seeing your PCP can also help find health issues early. Your PCP can make sure you get the vaccines and cancer screenings you need based on your age, gender and risk factors. (By the way, March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Schedule your colon cancer screening today!)

When you see your PCP regularly, they have a clear picture of your life, your health and your unique needs. This relationship is vital if health issues arise.

When to see your dentist

Your mouth is part of your body! Overall health depends on good oral health. You should visit your dentist regularly. The American Dental Association says you should see your dentist at least once or twice each year. (Or more, depending on what your dentist says.)

When you see the dentist, your teeth will be cleaned and you can ask them questions about your oral health, too. They’ll check for cavities or any other issues

Regular dental care is as important as regular medical care. When you see your dentist often, they can keep an eye on your oral health. You’ll be healthier if your dentist knows you — and your mouth — well.

Take your family to the dentist, too! You have a “dental home” when your family has an ongoing relationship with your dentist. Having a dental home means taking your kids to a pediatric dentist before their first birthday. Dentists track kids’ oral development to make sure their teeth are healthy as they grow. When it’s time to see an adult dentist, your children will already have good dental habits. In a dental home, going to the dentist is a family habit. And don’t forget to brush and floss!

When to seek mental health care or substance use treatment

It’s always a good time to take care of your mental health. For urgent issues, call a local crisis line:

  • Clackamas County: 503-655-8585 (TTY 711)
  • Multnomah County: 503-988-4888 (TTY 711)
  • Washington County: 503-291-9111 (TTY 711)

For less urgent mental health issues, your CareOregon benefits include mental health care and substance use treatment. If you need treatment for mental health or substance use disorders, don’t hesitate to ask your primary care team. You can also call us at 800-224-4840, or find mental health resources on our website.

Do you need help quitting tobacco? Take the first step and talk with your PCP. They can guide you to resources that will help. You can also call the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669).

Many primary care medical home (PCMH) practices have integrated mental health providers. These professionals are part of the primary care team. They can help with health-related behavior and habit changes like quitting smoking, managing anxiety and stress, depression, and even with chronic conditions like diabetes management. Ask your PCP about these key supports, which may be available where you already get your primary care.

What a pharmacist can do for you

Pharmacists do much more than fill your prescription!

When you get medicine at the pharmacy, take time to talk with a pharmacist. They can answer questions about medications and make sure you’re taking the right ones and taking them correctly. If you take more than one medication, pharmacists can review them and tell you if they work together. Your pharmacist can also give advice on over-the-counter medicines for things like high blood pressure, digestion issues and more.

If you visit the same pharmacy often, you’ll build a relationship with your pharmacist. Like your PCP, regular talks with your pharmacist help them know you, your health and your needs better.

In many clinics, there are clinical pharmacists who have additional training that allows them to be part of your primary care team. You can schedule appointments with a clinical pharmacist to make sure your medications are safe, appropriate and working well together. These professionals can also help you adjust medications or show you how best to use medications when needed. They can even order routine lab testing. This may be especially important when medications change, like when you go to the hospital or ER, or when you see a specialist. Clinical pharmacists working with your PCP can also help you adjust medications for chronic conditions. They can help with insulin and blood pressure dosing, or with some medications used to treat substance use disorders, like buprenorphine.

Your PCP, dentist, urgent care and the ER

When should you see your PCP or dentist? Go to urgent care? Visit the ER? Sometimes it’s hard to know how serious an illness is. Here are some tips:

  • Make an appointment with your PCP if you can wait to be seen. Your PCP can handle most of your medical conditions, whether chronic or immediate. Your PCP can also refer you to a specialist if needed.
  • Visit the nearest urgent care clinic If your symptoms aren’t life-threatening, or if your PCP says you need care before they can see you. You’ll probably be seen faster at urgent care than at the ER.
  • Go to the ER or call 911 if your symptoms are life-threatening. This includes things like chest pain, head trauma, breathing trouble, poisoning, pregnancy complications or mental distress. You don’t need to call your PCP or health plan first.
  • If you need emergency or urgent dental care, ask your dentist if they can see you quickly. You may get the best care by calling your dentist or dental health plan before going to the ER, even at night or on the weekend.

Follow up with your PCP or your dentist after you go to urgent care, the ER, or after you’ve been in the hospital. They can make sure you get follow-up care and that your medications are coordinated and up to date. This will help you stay well and out of the hospital.

Let’s sum it up

Checking in regularly with your PCP and primary care team, dentist, mental health provider and pharmacist is vital for better health. Take the time to establish care with someone you trust who can help coordinate your overall health. This will help you feel your best, so you can spend your time doing the things you love!

More helpful resources

Patient-centered primary care home program
How often should you see the doctor? 6 important considerations

Emergency room, urgent care or primary care physician?

Your top 9 questions about going to the dentist — answered!

About the dental home

Finding help: When to get it and where to go (Mental Health America)

Tips for better communication with your pharmacist

Urgent care vs. emergency room: What's the difference?