Not so long ago, most of us had a family doctor – someone who knew us and our health history – the doctor we turned to for help with both everyday health concerns and sudden illnesses. But now that there’s a minute clinic or urgent care on every corner, you may ask yourself, “Why do I need a primary care doctor?”
What is the role of a primary care doctor?
Primary care providers (PCPs) manage your day-to-day health needs. “A PCP is the first place you go with questions or concerns about your health,” said OhioHealth family doctor Christopher Michael Johnson, DO.
A PCP could be a family practitioner, an OB-GYN, an internal medicine doctor or a pediatrician. What makes them “primary” is that you have a long-term (even life-long) relationship with them, and you can contact them directly without needing a referral.
They evaluate your medical concerns and offer treatment or refer you to a specialist. Your PCP can answer questions about symptoms, diagnose conditions and prescribe medicines. In addition, they support your overall wellness with regular screenings, checkups and immunizations appropriate for your age and health.
A PCP will monitor chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. They will also let you know when it is time for age-related health screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies. Your PCP is also your go-to provider when you have flu symptoms, a sprained ankle or any non-emergency health issue.
How often should I see my PCP?
Visit your PCP annually for a complete physical, immunization checkup and lab work. If you have a chronic condition, you may need to visit your primary care doctor more often for blood work or other tests.
How does my PCP work with specialists?
Your PCP will refer you to a specialist when your medical issues are complex or if you need a hospital procedure. They will likely refer you to a specialist they’ve worked with and trust. Your PCP might even coordinate appointment scheduling and transfer your records faster than you can on your own.
What are the benefits of having a PCP?
“The most important benefit of having a primary care doctor is the longevity of care. I see generations of families in my practice. It’s my favorite thing about being a family doctor,” Dr. Johnson remarked.
Your PCP is familiar with your family and personal medical history. They may spot possible health issues before they become problems and can offer compassionate care when delivering difficult diagnoses. You likely will not receive such personalized care at a minute clinic or urgent care.
Some studies show that people with PCPs live longer and have fewer diseases and other medical conditions because they have regular health screenings and access to medications.
How can a primary care doctor help in an emergency?
Sometimes having a PCP can make a life-and-death difference. A 19-year-old male came into Dr. Johnson’s office with sinus congestion and vomiting. Dr. Johnson gave him some medicine and sent him home. But when the patient started feeling even worse, he returned to the office. While he was there, the staff noticed his blood pressure was very low. They immediately sent him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with fluid around his heart caused by a virus. Dr. Johnson said, “If he had waited or not come back, he wouldn’t have made it. He didn’t realize how sick he was but returned to be re-checked. It was good that he did.”
How do I find a primary care doctor who is a good fit for me?
Your best resources are your friends and family. They know who you would like and will have a good sense of how their PCP treats patients.
“Look for a doctor that fits your communication style and personality,” Dr. Johnson stressed. He also suggested that if you meet with a new doctor and are uncomfortable, find someone else. “Find a doctor who listens to you and pays attention to your concerns,” Dr. Johnson said.
The best PCPs want you to feel comfortable reaching out to them even when you are not entirely sure there is a problem or if you’ve already been in their office or the emergency room. Dr. Johnson said, “I always tell my patients to call again and again. It’s the one time you don’t call us when your concern becomes a problem. If everything turns out fine, it’s a great day.”
If you are looking for a primary care doctor in your area, check out our Find a Doctor page.