It’s common for people — especially young, working adults who are seemingly healthy — to ask themselves whether they need a primary care provider. The answer is “yes.” Having one will help keep you healthier throughout life.
Numerous studies in medical journals have confirmed this, including one in the International Journal of Health Services, which showed that states with more primary care providers per capita have better health outcomes, including fewer deaths from heart disease, stroke, or cancer. In addition, a different study in the same journal suggested that a sufficient supply of primary care providers is linked to a longer lifespan, and fewer premature deaths.
Primary care providers can significantly impact your health by delivering “continuity of care.” This means you establish a professional relationship with a health care provider, which improves year after year. This provider gets to know you, your health history, and health goals, and also helps manage your overall progress. Continuity provides real benefits that have been shown to amount to better health. Examples of continuity include:
In the short term, continuity of care greatly increases the chances that you will receive a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Primary care providers acquire important information by following a health issue over time and can make treatment decisions as a result. Over time, a provider who knows your personality, tendencies, and health history is in a better position to identify signs that might indicate a potential health change. For example, a primary care provider would know that a mole you’re concerned about isn’t a problem since it has remained the same since they began keeping an eye on it years ago.
2. Point person
If you need to see a specialist, a primary care provider will refer you to someone they know, respect, and collaborate with. Your primary care provider has working relationships with the specialists they refer to and keeps track of your care with them.
3. Time saver
Establishing a professional relationship with a primary care provider can help you receive care more quickly. Since that person knows more about you and your medical history, they can often help you over the phone or via secure email.
If you see your primary care provider for annual physicals rather than only when you’re sick, they can educate you about your health and help avoid chronic illnesses in the future. Yearly physicals are a time when your primary care provider can give you information about your unique health needs and goals.
Choose the Best PCP for You
When seeking a primary care provider, look for a sense of safety, rapport, trust, thoroughness, and a broad depth of knowledge. Experts also recommend finding a provider who values and asks for your opinion and input.
Common Types of PCPs
The most common primary care providers include:
- Family medicine or family practice providers care for the general medical, psychological, and developmental needs of people and any family members.
- Internal medicine providers focus on adult medicine and have had special training on the prevention and treatment of adult diseases.
- Pediatricians specialize in child and adolescent health care from birth until age 21.
Written by Dr. Sara May