Q: I just retired and moved to Winston-Salem to be close to my son. I need to find a doctor and do not know where to start.

LP

Answer: Finding a doctor when you are new to a town can seem like a challenge. As you age, and your needs and your abilities to function change, having someone you know and trust who can guide you through the health care process can be comforting. A primary care doctor will become familiar with your complete medical history, your reactions to medications, your treatment preferences, and just as important, your personality and lifestyle.

Primary care physicians will help guide your health care as you move through your life and choosing the best provider for you is certainly one of the most important decisions you can make. In addition to managing your general health care, they can direct you to more specialized care when you need it.

A good place to start to find your primary provider is with your insurance carrier. Some carriers require referrals to specialists be made by a primary care physician; therefore knowing and understanding your insurance benefits is critical when choosing your physicians. Most plans charge more if a doctor (primary and specialty care) is out of network and some will not cover out-of-network care at all. By discussing your requirements with your insurance provider or by visiting their website, you can learn useful information about in-network physicians, patient satisfaction ratings, board certification and special interests, as well as current availability to ensure your needs will be met.

Several helpful suggestions to consider when selecting your physician are talking to family and friends about their doctors. Although a recommendation from someone you trust is helpful, remember everyone is different and just because a doctor is right for one person, he/she may not be right for you. Another consideration when choosing a primary doctor is to keep in mind you will most likely visit him or her for routine as well as sick visits, therefore, their location should be convenient.

You may want to call the physician’s office to ask about types of insurance plans they accept, if they are taking new patients and what the appointment availability is. You can learn a lot about the office and the providers by the phone etiquette of the office staff.

It is important to remember your personal needs and health situations. Ask about the physician’s special interests. Some primary care physicians have completed additional fellowships in areas such as sports medicine or diabetes care. Knowing their training and experience will help you in ensuring a good fit.

Once you find a physician you should be comfortable with your choice. After your first several appointments, consider if you feel at ease with this provider and were your questions answered with explanations you understood. And most importantly, do you trust him or her? Remember, changing providers is always an option if you feel it is not a good fit.

In our Winston-Salem community, we have two large health organizations, Novant Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health. Both of these have multiple primary care and specialty providers within their groups. Information is available through their respective referral lines, Novant 888-976-5611 and Wake Forest Health 336-716-2011, or by visiting their individual websites, Novanthealth.org or wakehealth.edu. In addition to these groups, there are other independent health care providers available to the public.

A healthy start

Thinking of the New Year and resolutions? We thought we would share a few recommendations from the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation.

1. Resolve to eat healthier

As we age, we still need healthy food, but usually fewer calories. You can begin to reduce your caloric intake by eating more fruits and vegetables. Meats like chicken, turkey and fish are also good choices that have lower fat. Visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website at choosemyplate.gov for more ideas about eating a balanced diet.

2. Resolve to see your medical provider regularly

Scheduling an annual wellness visit with your health-care provider to discuss health screenings and any changes in your medical history is important for your overall health. Screenings should include checking your vision, hearing and other conditions. Be sure to discuss medications you are currently taking and whether you should continue taking them. Ask about any new or booster immunizations you might need as well.

3. Resolve to be active

You can be active even if you have heart disease, diabetes or arthritis. These conditions can actually improve with activity. Exercises like tai chi, water aerobics, walking and stretching are great low impact activities to improve your health and mood. A good way to start is with a SilverSneakers program. SilverSneakers is a health and fitness program designed for adults 65 and older. The cost is sometimes covered by Medicare Plans or insurance. To find out your eligibility for local fitness center classes visit silversneakers.com.

4. Resolve to take action about your mental health

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. About 1 in 5 older adults suffers from depression or anxiety. Be aware of signs like sadness, tiredness, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, worry and irritability. Reach out to family and friends for support. Consider talking to a professional if these signs last more than two weeks.

5. Resolve to get enough sleep

Sleep is increasingly linked to brain function and overall quality of life as we age. Although staying asleep is often more difficult for seniors, we still need just as much sleep as younger people. Seven to eight hours a night is ideal. The National Sleep Foundation has tips for better sleep habits. Visit sleepfoundation.org for more information.

These are just a few ideas to help you stay healthy for years to come. Taking care of yourself is always a good start to the New Year. We wish you well in 2020!

AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email agewise@seniorservicesinc.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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