A doctor speaking to her patient

Top reasons to visit your primary care provider

Whether for preventive or acute care, your primary care provider can help you live your healthiest life in a variety of ways
October 7, 2019

A primary care provider is often the first health care professional you see when you have a question. In some instances, they can consult and treat in-house, but other times they refer you to the appropriate specialist to get more focused help. Primary care physician Jason R. McKnight, MD, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, family medicine physician at Texas A&M Health Family Care, explains some of the most important ways your primary care provider can help you live your healthiest life.

Chronic disease management

“Your primary care provider can help coordinate the care required for your chronic diseases,” McKnight said. “They can prescribe refills for your medications and manage your conditions long-term, even if you also see a specialist for these conditions..”

Your primary care provider can treat and monitor a number of chronic diseases and conditions including:

If your chronic disease warranted a visit to a specialist, once your chronic disease is stable, primary care providers can coordinate your care to minimize the number of specialist appointments you need after the fact. For example, if you have a heart attack, you will regularly see your cardiologist afterward. However, once you are stabilized on the proper medications, the cardiologist would likely refer you back to your primary care provider for continued monitoring and treatment. However, McKnight says most chronic diseases do not require specialist intervention.

Referrals to medical specialists

Although your primary care provider can sometimes prevent the need to see certain specialists, they can also recommend and suggest qualified specialists. Your primary care provider can also help coordinate treatment among specialists.

“Sometimes when you are seeing multiple specialists, it can be hard for them to treat you when they may not necessarily realize how else you are being treated and for what conditions,” McKnight said. “Your primary care provider will know who you see for specialty care and what medications you take, whereas a specialist may not necessarily realize you are seeing multiple specialists who are prescribing you medications with side effects outside of their specialty.”

Acute care visits for sudden illness or injury

Whether a fever or broken arm, many people first visit their primary care provider. “When in doubt, call or visit your primary care provider if you think something is wrong,” McKnight said. “They may refer you to a specialist, but they may not need to refer you anywhere.” For example, in the case of a broken arm, McKnight said that a lot of simple fractures can be managed by your primary care provider.

Unless it is life-threatening, many people first visit their primary care provider for help treating influenza (flu), pneumonia, stomach virus and any other negative change in health status.

Annual exam or physical exam

From newborn and well-child exams to Medicare-required annual exams to a sports physical, your primary care provider can see you. An annual exam often includes bloodwork and screenings for various diseases and conditions.

“Many people opt to do their whole annual exam at their primary care provider’s office, but some women chose to see an OB-GYN for their pelvic exam,” McKnight said. “It does not matter which you do as long as you are getting the proper screenings and treatments for your age group.”

Reduction of hospital and emergency department visits

“Some people will rush to the emergency department (ED) for something small, but their primary care office can help them,” McKnight said. “If you think you need to go to the ED and it is not a life-threatening situation, you can call your primary care office. They can confirm whether you need to go to the ED or can get a day-of visit at your primary care office.” If your primary care provider does send you to the ED, sometimes they can call ahead and get you evaluated more quickly.

On a similar note, McKnight encourages everyone to be careful if they decide to visit a freestanding emergency room for something that can be treated at their primary care provider’s office or an urgent care clinic. “Sometimes patients get confused between what should be best treated at a freestanding emergency room, urgent care clinic or primary care provider’s office,” he said. “Insurance can classify them differently, so the difference in cost can often be quite large.”

Good continuity of care

If you see the same provider for the majority of your health care needs, then the two of you can develop a relationship,” McKnight said. “Your provider will start to know you even better, which leads to more trusting and communicative patient-provider interactions.” They will have a better understanding of your life and lifestyle, so they can better inform you of the best course of health care for you.

Similarly, a provider who knows you and your family may have a better grasp on your family medical history, which will also inform them of the best type of care for you.

— Mary Leigh Meyer

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