In a national survey, 89 percent of Americans agreed it’s important to have a relationship with a physician who knows their family medical history and health background. So why is it that, despite this statistic, a significant percentage of Americans do not have a primary care doctor, the first point of contact for your health needs and the coordinator of your continuing care?
A government study earlier this year found that 28 percent of men and 17 percent of women don’t have a personal doctor or healthcare provider.
I’ll admit, for a good part of my life, I was among those who did not have a primary care doctor. As a generally healthy female who is in decent shape, I simply never thought I would need one. I am rarely sick, and my family history for chronic disease and other disorders reads like a boring novel on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
But after a few mishaps resulting in costly trips to the emergency room — one being a fire ant bite that caused a reaction to its toxic venom, another, a test for diabetes when my second child was born at just under 11 pounds (apparently big babies are an indicator of possible diabetes) — I finally understood that my family history does not necessarily tell the whole story of my health.
I decided it was time to find myself a primary care physician, the doctor who would keep track of my health history, oversee my routine care and help me prevent the onset of some chronic condition that may be lurking somewhere in my genes.
“There are significant benefits to creating a continuing, trusting relationship with a primary care doctor,” said Michael Massey, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance for North Texas and an internal medicine physician.
By familiarizing with a patient’s medical history, Dr. Massey finds he is better able to recognize when a patient may be experiencing changes in their health.
“I treat the whole person, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well,” Dr. Massey said. “I am also responsible for coordinating patient care, devising individual treatment plans and ensuring that my patients have access to specialty care if they need it.”
One benefit that isn’t always obvious of maintaining a relationship with a primary care physician is the added coordination they can provide to keep you in-network as you use other health services with laboratories, imaging centers, specialists or hospitals. Your primary care doctor will know what services are in-network with your health plan, which, in turn, will save you money and improve the quality of care you receive.
To recap, your primary care physician should:
- Provide education so that you can take charge of your health
- Ensure that your preventive screenings are completed
- Devise appropriate treatment plans for managing chronic or complex illnesses
- Act as your advocate and coordinate your care with your current specialist or refer you to a specialist if needed
- Suggest other care delivery options that may help prevent unnecessary visits to the emergency room or admission to the hospital
- Help you stay in-network with your benefits plan saving you on out-of-pocket expenses