The first week in October each year is National Primary Care Week, a time when we celebrate all of the hard work that physicians go through to ensure the health of our nation. Aside from making sure to thank those who do so much for us, it’s also an opportunity for everyone to evaluate their own health and uncover ways in which they can utilize their primary care physician’s services in a better way.
Primary care physicians go through an immense amount of training and spend many years in school before even seeing their first patient. They’re there for us when we are often at our worst, providing hope and healing to all members of the family. Let’s spend some time learning more about how we can partner with these amazing individuals to further promote our health and wellbeing.
Bolstering The Community
If you have had the same primary care doctor for a while, you probably understand the unique benefits this type of relationship can bring, but what about those who don’t tap into this resource? How does a primary care physician offer more value than a visit to the emergency room or urgent care clinic? The reasons might surprise you.
The main reason that establishing care with a primary physician is encouraged is to create familiarity and begin an ongoing relationship. Imagine if you suffered from a health condition that brought you to the emergency room from time to time because it was difficult to manage. Each time you saw a different doctor and had to start from square one explaining your symptoms and concerns.
Now think about how a primary care physician could change the management of your health. Regular checkups could help you create a preventative treatment plan that allows you to avoid seeking emergency care. The rapport you build with your sole doctor also creates a familiarity that’s comfortable for both of you. For patients with detailed and complex medical histories, working with a primary care doctor is essential.
It’s not just individuals with health concerns who benefit from a relationship with a primary care physician, as even those who do not seem to have any medical problems could still see a large benefit. In 2010, nearly one in four Americans did not have a primary healthcare provider, and much of this is largely due to rural regions across the nation that literally do not have a physician that’s accessible. When communities have someone to rely on for their basic medical needs, it’s been proven that one’s quality of life and life expectancy both increase dramatically.
Making It Regular
It can’t be stressed enough that part of the benefit in having a primary care provider is the ability to be seen on a consistent basis. Rather than only seeing your doctor when you’re feeling under the weather, it’s recommended that adults visit their provider for an annual checkup. While many people know this is an important element of good health, only 62% of adults actually see their doctor yearly according to a poll conducted by The Kaiser Family Foundation.
So, when is an ideal time to schedule a physical? Experts agree that adults between the ages of 19 and 21 should see their primary care provider every two to three years. Those between 22 and 64 years of age are likely to be just fine if they only receive a physical every one to three years. Those 65 and older should visit their doctor annually. Keep in mind these are loose guidelines, and depending on your specific medical history, your physician may want to see you more or less often.
While it may seem more like a chore than a priority, the benefits of an annual checkup are vast, including:
- Screening to uncover diseases at an early stage
- Discussing and updating any relevant immunization needs
- Reinforcing the habits of regular exercise and eating a healthy diet
- Building a relationship with your doctor
- Ensuring that concerns or symptoms do not escalate into future health issues down the line
An annual physical is a very routine part of the American healthcare system, so in general there are very few risks that accompany this type of appointment. However, it should be noted that individuals who are concerned about blood draws should speak with their doctor prior to completing the appointment. Lab work is often a valuable part of an annual checkup, yet for some, the idea of drawing blood is too uncomfortable to endure.
Meeting Your Milestones
Does an annual checkup with your primary care doctor look the same at age 23 as it does at 63? Probably not, as your age and overall health will dictate the areas of focus during your visit. For many who are at the prime of their physical health, general testing that examines one’s weight, blood pressure, and overall wellness will probably suffice. Yet as we age, there are additional areas that our doctors will focus on. They can include:
- Depression Screening – While this condition certainly doesn’t associate with any particular age group, it’s important to discuss your mental health with your primary care doctor. Together you can track specific symptoms and can uncover ways to manage your concerns.
- Pap Smears – It’s recommended that women have this testing performed anywhere from every one to three years over the age of 21, or at the onset of sexual activity. Some primary care physicians may be able to complete this procedure or it may be recommended that you visit a gynecologist.
- Colorectal Cancer Tests – Starting at the age of 50, your primary care physician will want to screen for this particular condition. There are several tests available, including blood tests, stool tests, and colonoscopies.
- Blood Pressure – Adults should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. Significant changes in one’s blood pressure can actually clue physicians into other conditions that may be occurring, so it’s an important element of your health to monitor.
- Cholesterol Checks – Individuals who are at risk for developing high cholesterol, including having diabetes, smoking, or possessing a family history of heart disease, should have their cholesterol checked annually from the age of 20. Low-risk female patients should begin screening at age 45 while men ages 35 and up should make sure this is a part of their yearly physical.
- Osteoporosis Testing – As we age our bones naturally tend to weaken, and for women, osteoporosis becomes a major concern over the age of 65. If you are between the ages of 60 and 64 and weigh less than 154 pounds, speak with your primary care physician about the need for testing. Once you reach 65, this procedure should be a part of your annual exam.
- Mammograms – Another female-specific test, doctors advise that women complete a mammogram every one to two years starting at the age of 40. A family history of breast cancer may dictate that screening begins at an earlier age.
Making The Appointment
Scheduling an annual exam can be intimidating, and whether it’s your first visit with a new primary care physician or it’s just been a while since you’ve been seen, this important aspect of your health should be given a high priority. Before you close your eyes and pick a doctor from a long list, it’s helpful to keep a few things in mind.
If you have insurance, make sure that you visit a provider within your particular network. Many insurance plans completely cover preventative care, so there’s a good chance that each annual visit won’t cost anything out of your pocket. Speak with friends and family to find out who their primary care physician is and if they would recommend that you see them. Remember, a huge benefit of having a regular doctor is the relationship that you build with them over time, so you’ll want to see someone that you trust with your personal care.
However, if you end up seeing someone outside of your insurance network, be prepared to pay a range of costs. If you are uninsured and are looking to find a provider in your budget, try Slingshot Health where you determine the price, time, and location. You pay cash upfront, so you know exactly how much the visit will cost you, eliminating surprise medical bills! To learn more, visit slingshothealth.com.
Visiting the doctor can bring up a host of feelings including fear and anxiety, so if you find that scheduling the appointment is difficult enough, ask aa friend or loved one to come to the appointment with you. It can’t be stressed enough how important seeing a primary care doctor is for preventative and ongoing care, and often times having the support of someone there with you can be just what you need to feel comfortable.
Above all else, let’s take time this week to recognize and thank primary care physicians for all that they do. From seeing small children when they’re ill to monitoring ongoing health conditions in certain patients for decades, or simply just being there to confide in during your annual checkups, these providers work hard to ensure you are strong and healthy. If you haven’t seen your primary care doctor in some time, make an appointment today!