Memorial Regional Heath: Patients who see primary care providers live longer — research shows primary care leads to prevention, better overall health
Editor’s note: The following article is sponsored by Memorial Regional Health
Patients with access to primary health care have lower health care costs than those who don’t, and they also live longer, healthier lives.
The American Academy of Family Physicians points toward research that shows better access to primary care physicians could prevent as many as 127,000 deaths per year. But what exactly is primary care and how do you know if you have it?
“Primary care includes health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses in a variety of health care settings,” according to the AAFP. “Primary care is performed and managed by a personal physician often collaborating with other health professionals and utilizing consultation or referral as appropriate.”
This kind of attention to patients’ care equates to better patient advocacy within the health care system and more cost-effective care, but it also requires patients to play an active role in their own health care.
Have you ever wondered whether you should be getting screenings for certain diseases? Sure, you could read some recommendations online, but health care needs vary from patient to patient. For example, a woman with no family history of breast cancer might be able to wait until age 40 before getting her first mammogram, while a woman with a family history or certain genetics might be advised to get one much sooner.
“Annual health checkups are an opportunity to be sure you are up to date on labs and screenings that are recommended for your demographic. Our hope is that we can prevent illness before it starts by doing annual screenings,” said Tracey Wall, family medicine physician assistant at Memorial Regional Health, “or, begin treatment when a problem is small with small interventions and modifications instead of trying to fix something that has become a major issue.”
Skipping regular screenings could mean missing detection of important issues, such as chronic illness, cancer, or other problems that can be reversed, prevented, or treated early.
“By skipping these visits, conditions may go unchecked and can worsen,” Wall said.
Primary care doctors are specialists in family medicine, internal medicine, or pediatrics, but physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and others can also serve as primary care providers.
“These providers of primary care may meet the needs of specific patients,” according to the AAFP. “They should provide these services in collaborative teams in which the ultimate responsibility for the patient resides with the primary care physician.”
Wall said that, while providers might not remember every detail about a patient’s health from year to year, it’s still very helpful to not have to learn someone’s medical history every year.
“Providers can’t remember everything, but we can build relationships over time, and then your history is familiar to us,” she said. “Every provider does things a little different, too, so sticking with one person can bring some continuity to your care.”
Choosing a provider
It’s important to choose a primary care provider you feel you can trust and connect with, Wall said. Patients can also make an appointment with a provider before deciding if that’s who they want to see on an ongoing basis.
“Look for someone that will listen to you and allow you to be a part of the decision-making process,” Wall said. “We at MRH would love to have you choose someone from our team, but there are multiple options in town. Most providers have a biography on their website, and this could be a good place to start.”
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