by William C. Logan, Jr, MD, Humana
According to a national survey conducted by Esquire magazine in April 2011, about half of men ages 18 to 50 don’t have a primary care physician and one third of men haven’t had a checkup in more than a year. It’s important for both men and women to develop and maintain a relationship with a primary care physician who has a comprehensive view of your ailments and medicines, knows your family history and can make informed decisions about your care.
A primary care physician cares for patients of any age. You may often hear people refer to them as a PCP or primary care doctor. He or she can assess and treat a wide range of conditions, from sinus and respiratory infections to broken bones, and refers patients with more serious conditions to specialists or other healthcare facilities for more intensive care. One of the differentiating factors of a primary care physician from most other specialties is that they focus on relationships: the doctor knows the patient well enough to make informed decisions about care, and the patient feels comfortable enough to ask questions.
Primary care physicians are still important – especially in this digital age. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, eight in 10 Americans turn to the Internet to look for health information. While looking online may not hurt, it’s important to see your primary care physician for a proper diagnosis and avoid unfounded anxiety about one’s wellness due to information found online.
The Importance of Preventive Care Visits with Your PCP
The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true with your primary care physician. One of the most important things you can do for your health is to have a yearly preventive care visit. Think of a physical examination as a means of safeguarding your health – similar to getting a car tuned up.
Under the Affordable Care Act, if you have health insurance or have Medicare, you are eligible for a free annual “wellness” visit. A thorough exam allows your primary care physician to pick up on a variety of illnesses and can catch potentially devastating diseases early on. By finding, diagnosing and treating problems early, you can live a much healthier and longer life. Your doctor can also review your current health and helps set up a plan for improving it, by creating diet and exercise goals, as well as having scheduling preventive services like flu shots and cancer screenings.
How to Choose the Right Primary Care Physician for You
Sometimes the best way to find a good primary care physician is to ask friends and families for recommendations. If you are new to an area and do not have a network of friends in the community, find a hospital with an excellent reputation and visit its website or call its physician referral line to get the names of some physicians who attend there. You can also visit your health plans website to see if they have any tools or resources to help you make your decision.
Check the physicians’ credentials and certifications on sites such as the American Board of Medical Specialties. If you want to meet the primary care physician to gauge your comfort level, it’s wise to set up an interview with the doctor to get a feel for their personality.
Who Qualifies as a Primary Care Physician?
There are 24 specialties in medicine but typically only three specialties qualify as PCPs:
• Family Practice or General Practice: A family practitioner is qualified to care for the entire family. A family practitioner can be board-certified and also have training in a variety of subjects, including Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine and Psychiatry.
• Internal Medicine: An internist can diagnose and treat disease with medicine. An internist is not a surgeon. There are several sub-specialties an internist can have, including: specializing in a particular organ, like the lungs or the kidneys, a particular disease, like diabetes, or a particular age group, like the elderly.
• Pediatrics: Pediatricians specialize in the overall well-being of children. Most pediatricians treat children from birth until adolescence or about 14 years old. Pediatricians can have sub-specialties such as surgery or pediatric cardiology.
Having a primary care physician and maintaining a relationship with them is key to your health