Where do you turn if you have a persistent cough, feel anxious or depressed, sprain your ankle or develop a rash? The best person to go to is your primary care physician or PCP. They can diagnose and treat a range of medical conditions and refer you to the proper specialist, if needed. Primary care physicians play a key role in the healthcare system and can help you reach your health and wellness goals.
A PCP goes by many names including a general practice provider, an internal medicine doctor, a family medicine doctor and, sometimes, a pediatrician. They diagnose and manage healthcare problems, coordinate patient care and track health and wellness. Here are a few of the many things a PCP can do:
● Treat patients with flu, colds, strep throat and other infectious diseases
● Prescribe medications and give advice about over-the-counter medications
● Treat patients with lacerations, sprains, back pain and other injuries
● Help manage chronic conditions including hypertension, asthma, diabetes and high cholesterol
● Provide routine health exams and physicals
● Treat anxiety, depression and other mild to moderate mental health conditions
● Perform screening and diagnostic tests
● Discuss treatment options and make recommendations for the most appropriate care
● Provide acute care for symptoms such as high fever, stomach pain or cough
Your age and medical condition usually determine how often you should see your primary care physician. Infants and children should regularly visit their PCP to track developmental milestones and stay current on immunizations. It’s also important for adults to visit their PCP, but the frequency varies. Patients with chronic medical conditions usually have to see their doctor more often. The frequency also usually increases as people age. If you’re unsure how often you should see your PCP, just ask them. They can give you a recommendation based on your age and healthcare needs.
In addition to regular appointments, you can also visit your PCP any time you’re concerned about your health. Most primary care physicians work to accommodate same day appointments for urgent, last-minute needs.
There are a number of misconceptions people hold about primary care physicians. Here are a few common ones:
● You only need to see a doctor when you’re sick – Regular visits with a PCP help catch problems earlier and maintain better overall health and wellness.
● Only children need regular check-ups – People of all ages benefit from routine check-ups, not just children.
● It takes weeks or months to see a doctor – Having a relationship with a PCP helps you get the care you need in a timely manner.
Choosing a PCP is an important decision; ideally, you’ll develop a relationship with this doctor over the years as they coordinate your care. Here are some things to look for when choosing a PCP:
● A physician in your health insurance network
● Someone recommended by family, friends or coworkers
● A PCP you can get an appointment with when you need one
● A convenient location, perhaps one close to your home or work
● Someone with whom you feel comfortable, who listens to you and cares about your well-being
A primary care physician is an important part of the healthcare system. They offer patients a number of benefits including the following:
● Improved diagnoses – A PCP sees you regularly and is familiar with your health history so they are more likely to notice health changes. This often leads to better, more accurate diagnoses.
● Lower medical costs – Regularly visiting your PCP for preventative care and urgent concerns helps you avoid costly visits to the emergency room and often means fewer medical visits overall.
● Staying healthier – From help managing chronic conditions to personalized recommendations, a PCP can help you improve your health.
● Trust – It’s natural to develop a relationship with a doctor that you see on a regular basis. This makes it easier to talk about private medical concerns.
● Coordinated health care – A PCP treats a little of everything and can coordinate your health care from one location.
● Referrals – Sometimes you need to see a specialist for more advanced care in a certain area; your PCP can refer you to the right specialist.
● Help managing chronic diseases – It’s difficult to manage a chronic disease on your own, but a PCP helps monitor chronic conditions. Staying organized and aware of the ways the condition is affecting your body helps you obtain better outcomes.
● Complete health history – Your health history helps doctors catch diseases earlier, provide better overall care or even prevent certain conditions. An ongoing relationship helps build a complete health history so your physician has access to this important tool.
● Routine screenings – Regular screenings and tests help detect symptoms early while they are easier to treat and before they lead to debilitating health issues.
● Help navigating the healthcare system – Healthcare can be confusing and overwhelming for patients. Primary care physicians understand how the system works and help guide patients to the best care possible.
● Continuity – Seeing the same physician over a number of years gives you continuity of healthcare. This makes a PCP more likely to see how problems are related to or influence one another.
● Higher immunization rates – A PCP helps keep track of your immunization record so you can stay up-to-date.
Primary care physicians are key players in the healthcare world. If you don’t already have a PCP, now is the time to look for one and begin developing a relationship. Make the decision to benefit your health now and for the future.