Health tips: choosing a local care provider

Lizzy Balboa

Learning to live alone presents a lot of challenges. Students soon become responsible for their own education, their own income and their own health.

When students leave home for the first time to attend Grand Valley State University, they generally leave behind their primary care provider, rendering them defenseless in a new community of diseases and health concerns.

“It is important for students to establish a relationship with a primary care provider so that they can establish and maintain healthy preventive care habits, rather than rely upon reactive care as their response to a health need,” said Kimberly Muma, special projects coordinator for the GVSU Office of the Vice Provost for Health. “Establishing routine primary care helps to prevent unnecessary emergency room visits.”

Muma said the GVSU Family Health Center advises students to use the services that it provides, but it also encourages students to communicate with their hometown care provider.

“Assistant practice manager Shannon Helton of GVSU’s Family Health Center suggests that students begin with their primary care provider back home first (and) ask their hometown primary care provider to provide recommendations for who to seek out in their new environment,” Muma said. Muma advised students who do not have a hometown care provider to use one of the GVSU Family Health Centers.

If students do find a local provider, Muma recommended contacting their hometown care providers to request that copies of their medical records and immunizations be sent to the new care provider.

Heather Rhodes, office manager for MetroHealth, offered a different opinion on care providers. Rhodes said the necessity of having a local primary care provider is really situational.

“If the patient has a chronic disease that requires frequent visits, then yes, I would say it’s a good idea to establish care with a primary care physician or specialist (depending on condition),” Rhodes said. “If a student has a chronic condition that requires frequent appointments, I would suggest that the students have a copy of their medical records sent to their primary care provider (in this area).”

Rhodes advised students to call their insurance companies before selecting a provider to ask if there is a physician in the area that accepts their insurance. They should also make sure that their insurance plans cover nurse practitioner or physician assistant care, if that is what they choose to receive.

Rhodes said a nurse practitioner or physician assistant can act as a student’s primary care giver, but some insurance companies require that they bill under a physician. For this reason, many patients list a physician as a primary care provider but see a physician’s assistant on a regular basis. Students can look into their insurance plans to get a better understanding of their limitations.

The GVSU Family Health Center, which is operated by the Kirkhof College of Nursing, provides a nurse practitioner-managed primary care model that is different than that provided by physicians and physician assistants. However, Muma quoted Helton as having said the nurse practitioner model of primary care is “more than adequate for the vast majority of students’ health care needs.”

Students with special health needs can go through a similar process to find a specialist in the area. However, Rhodes said it is not necessary for students to find a consistent specialist to see, since the primary care provider usually refers students to see a specialist if they deem it necessary.

“Based on their referral, students have the opportunity to pick their specialist,” Rhodes said. “MetroHealth Hospital offers a wide variety of specialists and has numerous physicians within the specialist group. If a student is unaware of what their options are to select a specialist, either the medical assistant or the provider at the office can help them select one.”

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TIPS INFOBOX: – establish a relationship with your primary healthcare provider – when selecting a local provider, know your insurance policy – send updated copies of your medical records & immunizations to any new local providers

To find a primary care physician or specialist in the Allendale/Grand Rapids area visit

GVSU Family Health Center