Column: Do I really need a primary care physician?
Your health is better off with a primary care physician or family doctor. Here’s why.
In some ways, access to healthcare seems easier than ever, with the expansion of retail walk-in clinics at pharmacies and big-box stores, virtual doctor appointments and urgent care clinics.
However, if you really want to stay healthy, having a primary care physician is crucial. In fact, research has shown that adults with primary care physicians are more likely to receive higher quality care, including services such as routine screenings for cancer and help managing chronic (long-term) conditions, like diabetes.
While walk-in and urgent care clinics are a great option when you need care and your doctor isn’t available, they aren’t meant to replace a primary care physician.
First things first, what is a primary care physician?
A primary care physician, primary care doctor, primary care provider or PCP, is considered your main doctor and the one who can address most of your health concerns. PCPs provide routine checkups and screenings, care for chronic conditions and treatment for common illnesses and injuries.
And, should you have a health concern that’s more complex, your PCP can refer you to the right specialist, like an endocrinologist, psychiatrist or surgeon.
There are a few types of primary care providers:
• Pediatrician: These doctors care for children from newborns through young adults (up to age 18).
• Family doctor: These doctors provide care for the whole family — children and adults.
• Internal medicine doctor: These doctors care for adults and can help you manage chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease.
• Advanced practitioner: These include physician assistants and nurse practitioners who work closely with your doctor to diagnose, treat and manage your care.
Now that you know what a primary care physician is, here’s why you need one:
They can help keep you healthy through preventive care.
Depending on your specific health needs, you’ll visit your primary care physician at least once a year for an annual checkup and any appropriate preventive health screenings, such as cancer, diabetes or cholesterol screenings.
During this visit, your PCP can also help you determine any medical conditions you may be at risk for developing and give you advice on how to lower your risk or prevent them altogether. This visit is also an opportunity to talk to your doctor about any vaccines that may be appropriate for you, such as the flu vaccine.
Your annual checkup is also a great time to discuss any other health concerns you may have.
The goal of preventive care is to keep you healthy. With appropriate screenings and tests, we can catch disease early on when treatment is most effective.
They’re your partner in managing chronic conditions.
If you have a chronic (long-term) condition, such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease or arthritis, your PCP can help you keep it under control through lifestyle changes, medications and other recommended treatments.
Depending on your specific condition, your PCP may refer you to a specialist and then work alongside the specialist to help keep you well.
And should you have a flare-up or develop complications, your PCP can provide guidance on next steps.
They’re pros when it comes to coordinating care.
If you have complex medical issues that require you to see multiple specialists, your PCP can help coordinate your care. What is coordinated care, exactly? Think of your PCP and specialists as a team, all working together to make sure you get the best care possible.
Your primary care doctor will work alongside your specialists to make sure you’re receiving the appropriate tests, your medications are compatible – and most importantly, that you stay out of the hospital if at all possible.
They’re also here for the unexpected health issues.
From colds, rashes and ear infections to common injuries like pulled muscles or sprains, your PCP is your go-to when you have health problems. They know you, your medical history and can help you get back to 100 percent as soon as possible.
Of course, if your PCP is unavailable and you can’t wait for care, urgent care or walk-in clinics are a great option. And remember to only use the emergency room (or ER) when you have a true health emergency.
If you’re having a non-emergency health issue and are unsure what to do, you can always call your doctor’s office and ask for a nurse. They can assess your issue over the phone and recommend next steps, if necessary.
Find a primary care physician who’s right for you.
Establishing and building a relationship with a PCP can help keep you healthier in the long run. And getting healthcare from someone who is familiar with you, and your medical history, can help improve the care you receive.
We’re here to make better health easier for all. At Geisinger, our primary care providers are here to provide the home you need for your (and your family’s) care. With clinics across Pennsylvania, most offering same-, next-day and virtual video appointments, you can find a PCP who’s right for you.
Jill Sharer, M.D., family medicine doctor at Geisinger Lycoming in Montoursville