More and more, people – especially young adults – are passing on primary care and instead turn to urgent care, retail clinics and virtual visits to address their health care needs. These care options are popular because of the convenience they offer. But keep in mind – although there’s a time and place for these types of care, they were never intended to replace primary care.
That’s because a primary care provider (PCP) offers something these other options don’t – a long-term relationship. Your PCP knows you – your health history, family history, medications and more. Think of it as a whole-person approach to care. Because your PCP knows your unique health needs, he or she can better oversee and coordinate your care.
Building a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. But you’ll start to develop one with consistent annual physical exams, which I recommend for all adults age 45 and older. That’s because this is when chronic health issues begin to show up. Rather than wait for a bad outcome, we can catch many of these conditions through screenings or lab work. It’s also a great time to touch base and see how you’re doing emotionally. Many people struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance and this extra stress can eventually weaken your immune system and wear you down emotionally. A PCP can help you talk through these issues and find solutions for lowering stress.
Your PCP can also address health issues that pop up throughout the year. Most people know they can turn to their PCP to treat diseases like ear infections, strep throat or a rash. But we should also be your first stop for care for other conditions. For example, some patients think they should call an orthopedic surgeon first when they experience knee pain. But a PCP may be able to resolve the issue. Knowing your health history, we might be able to identify underlying reasons for your knee pain that can be addressed without surgery. And if it turns out you need to see a specialist, your PCP can help coordinate that care.
As your health care needs change over time, you might consider transitioning between providers. For example, pediatricians specialize in caring for babies, kids and teens from birth through age 18. Whereas geriatricians focus on caring for older adults. When – and if – you work with these providers depends on your comfort level. For true continuity of care, you might opt for a family medicine physician. These PCPs are able to provide care across your entire lifetime – from birth through older age.
If you’re looking for a primary care provider, here are a few things to consider as you select one:
- Is the doctor board-certified? Look for someone with a solid education and knowledge base as well as the proper credentials.
- Can I get here for appointments? Find a provider that has a clinic in a location convenient to where you live or work with office hours that work with your schedule.
- Do we have a good rapport? Look for someone you can be honest with and feel safe confiding in. You need a relationship where you feel comfortable asking questions.