The Importance of Having a Primary Care Doctor

Convenience is king in our crazy hectic lives these days. Unfortunately, it’s taking a toll on the way we take care of ourselves physically, both on a day-to-day basis, and also when we get sick. More and more often people are choosing to go to urgent care facilities instead of seeking care from primary care physicians (PCPs). In fact, the idea of having a doctor that knows you personally is viewed by many as a relic of the past, with almost a third of men and one in five women surveyed saying they don’t have any relationship with a personal health care provider. According to a report by the Health Care Cost Institute, between 2012 and 2016, office visits to PCPs declined by 18%. And a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 28% of 30- to 40-year-olds, 18% of 50- to 64-yearl-olds, and 12% of 65+ don’t have a primary care doctor. Why is this happening? The survey answers say it’s an experience of long wait times in the waiting room, hurried visits with the doctor, and then being sent to a specialist where the experience is repeated. With this less-than-satisfying experience, it’s no wonder why folks are opting out of having a primary care. 

So it begs the question, do you actually need a primary care physician? Well there’s plenty of studies to prove, that yes, indeed you do, and at every age. So let’s look at some of those, and the reasons having one is so important. Simply state, having a primary care physician keeps you healthier over all as you age. In fact, a study by the International Journal of Health Services revealed that the states with the highest number of primary care physicians per capita have fewer deaths from stroke, cancer and heart disease. The study was clear that the more primary care physicians a community has, the fewer premature deaths occur there. Stanford and Harvard medical schools did a study that showed exactly how much life expectancy rises in those communities. Their study found that for every 10 primary care doctors per 100,000 people meant a community that has a 51.5 day rise in life expectancy. There’s lots of reasons for this. So let’s look at why it’s so important for you to choose a primary care doctor and then go to them on a regular basis for annual visits, preventative care, and yes, when you’re feeling ill.

To begin with a primary care doctor, or internist is a doctor specializes in general medical care, which means in diagnosing, preventing and treating a wide variety of medical conditions. They are able to look at you and recognize a wide variety of diseases. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “a primary care doctor is responsible for providing a patient’s comprehensive care.” By focusing on your health in this holistic way, your doctor can discuss a variety of healthcare problems you may be having from physical to emotional to mental health issues. They are trained in treating a little bit of everything and coordinating your care with other specialists as well. For example, let’s say you are feeling fatigued on a regular basis. If you got to a cardiologist, he or she is going to look at what’s going on with you specifically from the standpoint of how the health of your heart is or is not affecting you. A primary care doctor knows your entire health history intimately and can take into account everything going on with your body in order to discover exactly why you feel fatigued. It’s their continuity of care that increases your chances of getting a correct diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.


Continuity of Care

Continuity of care means that you have a long term established relationship with your doctor. Your PCP knows you and your health goals and helps you manage your health, whether through preventative maintenance or continued management of any conditions you may have. By tracking your health over time, your doctor gains valuable information and can make better treatment decisions in a shorter amount of time than if you simply went to an urgent care with a health problem. Also, even if you go in for a routine annual health exam, because your doctor knows your health history, your personality, your regular habits, they can more easily recognize if there’s been any changes in your health, even before you recognize them yourself. Knowing the intricacies of your health and wellness provides the familiarity that helps them personalize your care, which saves you time, and prevents unnecessary testing. Routine visits with your doctor gives him or her a chance to build an entire health history, which is imperative for them to be able to prevent disease and catch early symptoms of serious conditions. In fact, a report published by the American Medical Association found that adults with primary care physicians are more likely to receive “high value” services such as diabetes checkups, diagnostic testing, and regular cancer screenings than those without primary care.


An Ounce of Prevention Equals a Healthier Life

Because your primary care doctor truly knows you, they can go beyond simple routine screenings. They can ask the right questions and know your body well enough to be able to find symptoms of health issues before they become larger problems. By being aware of your overall health, your doctor can identify any changes in your body, recommend lifestyle changes, immunizations you may need and any testing to help you lower your risk of developing disease. Going to the doctor should be more than just a visit when you are feeling sick. By going for regular physicals, you hold onto your good health longer. 


Chronic Disease and Medication Management

If you have a chronic disease such as diabetes, arthritis, MS, lupus, or fibromyalgia, it becomes even more important to have a primary care doctor as your central point of contact for disease and medication management. Regular visits and routine tests are two ways your primary care doctor helps you stay on top of your disease and improve your quality of life. About 35% of Americans take at least one prescription drug and many take an average of four according to Consumer Reports. Your primary care can serve as a gatekeeper, keeping track of all the medications and being sure there are none that react poorly with each other. 


It Saves Time and Money

It sounds counterintuitive, but establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor and going for annual check-ups actually saves you time and money in the long run. That’s because when health issues arise between annual visits, your doctor knows enough about your health history to be able to more quickly diagnose what’s going on. This means going for fewer tests, which saves you both time and money. The types of regular screenings and immunizations, a record of your health history , and continuous open communication between you and your doctor, all contribute to an overall lower cost of health care. Research also shows that patients who visit their primary care doctor regularly have fewer visits to the emergency room and fewer hospitalizations.


Getting the Right Referrals

If you need a specialist of any kind, a skillful primary care physician will typically have a collaborative relationship with many of them and can refer you to exactly whom you need for your health issue. If you are seeing several specialists who are giving you different suggestions for care, your primary care doctor can help sort through all of them and prioritize which suggestion to act on first because he or she is familiar your unique medical history in a way the specialists are not. 


As you can see, when it comes to your long-term health and wellness, one of the best ways to care for yourself is to have a long term relationship with a primary care physician. We would love to be your primary care doctor, and to partner with you to ensure better health, and a long healthy life. Give us a call today to find out how you can enroll in our concierge practice!

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