Meet Internal Medicine Doctor Dale Swims
As told by Dale Swims, D.O.
We sat down with Dr. Dale Swims to discuss his role as an internal medicine doctor and the importance of developing a life-long relationship with your primary care provider.
What does an internal medicine doctor do?
We’re often the first doctor that people see when they’re not feeling well. People often think of internists or internal medicine physicians as gatekeepers, and in a way that’s right. We’re the first line of defense in the medical field.
The first thing I do when I see a patient is complete a thorough examination. They come in with symptoms like back pain, a cough or a cold, and I begin formulating an equation to determine where to go next. It’s understanding what the issue is and asking the appropriate questions.
The answers to those questions often guide me in my testing or treatment. Because I have a relationship with my patients and know their medical histories, I know whether additional testing is needed and whether I can treat it myself or need to direct them to the appropriate specialists.
Why is it important to have a relationship with your primary care doctor?
I always look forward to building, refining and growing relationships with my patients. I don’t want them to think that I’m this doctor that’s looking down at them or looking through them. I want them to be able to talk to me and have a conversation. And I try to express that within the first few minutes I come into the room.
Sometimes patients are a little more reserved. They don’t want to give away too much or they only want to talk about certain issues and not others. If I can make them comfortable, then I have a more complete picture of issues related to their health.
Knowing their history in full makes my job a lot easier when it comes to diagnosing and treating my patients. And if they don’t have a relationship with me, then they may not trust diagnostic tests, treatments or referrals that I need to do to better understand and treat ailments.
Why should you see a primary care doctor before a specialist?
Primary care doctors are often the first doctor that patients visit and we’re also the doctor that they see the longest. You build a relationship with a primary care doctor because they’re your doctor for 20, 30 or 40 years, whereas the specialists come in as needed.
If my patient needs to see a specialist, it’s my job to be their central navigator. I communicate with the specialist and the patient throughout their care. We keep it all within that comfortable and familiar network, with me being the overseer of their care.
Swedish Hospital is one of the few places I know where primary care doctors work side by side with their referrals—specialists, therapists, dietitians and nutritionists. Medicine isn’t just the doctors, it’s a whole team of people.
What does it mean to treat each patient as an individual?
Seeing my patients as individuals is of the utmost importance to my practice. It’s tailoring the care. It’s making it specific to them. It’s not painting every back pain or cold with a wide brush. It’s talking to them about their issues as an individual and addressing their specific concerns.
I’ve been a patient and a medical student when a doctor walks into a room and says: “You have these symptoms, so we need to do A, B and C.” To me, that’s not the way that medicine should be. It should be a relationship—a friendship—in which I can design a care plan that is unique to you to help you get better.
How important is access to your primary care practice?
Patients want the ability to see their doctor. They want to know that they’re being taken care of and that their questions are being answered. The ability for my patients to see me as soon as necessary is very important.
When a patient calls my practice, whether they talk to my nurse or me directly, a care plan is made. We set aside appointment times every day for sick visits. I am able to see my patients that same day or week it is necessary. If not, I can direct them to other resources, such as one of our Immediate Care Centers.
How important is it for primary care doctors to have relationships with the specialists they refer to?
Coordinating care becomes a lot easier when I see the specialists on a day-to-day basis. It’s easy for me to stop in the specialist’s clinic to talk about a difficult case or follow up with a patient that’s going through surgery that day. And I think that continuity of care—that relationship they see amongst their doctors—is important for patients.
What sets Swedish Hospital Apart?
I am actually a patient here at Swedish Hospital. Why I choose to be seen here is the same reasons I mentioned before: the community, the relationships and the idea that I am able to come to one campus and see all of my doctors—the access is there.
One of the great things about Swedish Hospital is that it looks after its own community. We really take care of people in this surrounding area.
Dale Swims, D.O.
, is a board-certified internal medicine physician
with Endeavor Health Medical Group
. His clinical interests include preventive and geriatric medicine.
By David Modica | Published February 1, 2019