You’re young and—except for the occasional cold—healthy. Do you really need a primary care physician, or can you simply rely on those walk-in clinics that seem to be popping up everywhere?
The short answer: Everyone should have a primary care physician regardless of their age or health status.
Simply put, having a primary care physician will keep you healthier as you age. Numerous studies have confirmed this, including one in the International Journal of Health Services that showed that states with more primary care physicians per capita have lower mortality rates for cancer, heart disease or stroke—even after controlling for lifestyle and demographic characteristics.
How, you may wonder, can having a primary care physician have such a big impact on your health? The answer lies in what healthcare professionals call “continuity of care.”
“If you don’t have a family doctor and rely on a walk-in center for care, chances are you will be seen by a different physician each time,” says Paul Pulchny, DO, with Bayhealth Family Medicine in Milton. “You may not get the same care from doctor to doctor as you would with a primary care physician who knows you and your medical history. Sometimes the lack of continuity of care can lead to a misdiagnosis.”
That continuity provides benefits that add up to better health outcomes. Here are just a few.
Advocating for patients is a core value in medicine, dating back to Hippocrates and codified in the oath that has provided the foundation on which the profession rests. A provider who knows your history, lifestyle and personality can more easily recognize signs that might indicate a change in your health, like a suspicious skin lesion. “If you see someone on a continued basis, obviously you have a better baseline from which to detect changes,” says Pulchny.
One of the major responsibilities of the primary care physician is to provide preventive care. When you see your doctor annually, he or she can make recommendations on appropriate screenings and immunizations. “”When you have a primary care doctor, there is a better chance of catching things early, which means better health outcomes,” says Pulchny.
If test results reveal that you do need to see a specialist, a primary care physician can refer you to someone they know and with whom they have a good working relationship. Moreover, the primary care physician provides what is commonly known as the “medical home,” coordinating information between healthcare providers and the patient.
Establishing a relationship with one provider can help you get care more quickly, whether the malady is mild or something more serious. For example, your doctor may be able to address concerns about a particular condition, call in a prescription or suggest a home-care remedy. This helps prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency room.
Having a primary care doctor allows a patient to be cared for by someone they know and trust. Primary care doctors see patients through all stages of life, making them well suited to helping patients navigate the changes they will experience during the course of their lives. They can also give you the tools and education needed to maintain good health or manage an illness, says Pulchny.