Importance of Preventive Health Care
Living well and feeling good are common goals shared by people at every age.
The key to a healthy outlook—or living at your “healthiest best”—often begins with thorough preventive care established in partnership with your primary care provider.
Dr. Jordan Collier, a family medicine specialist, provides preventive care at EvergreenHealth Primary Care in Redmond. He explains why it's important to see your provider even when you aren't feeling sick.
A lot of people think “I’m healthy, nothing feels wrong, why should I go to the doctor?” Explain to us why that way of thinking might be dangerous?
Dr. Jordan Collier: I believe having a relationship with a primary care provider (PCP) and seeing that provider before there are changes in your health status is something that everyone can benefit from.
Your PCP can get to know you personally, understand what your health goals are, and establish a baseline of your health when you are feeling healthy, so that changes in your health can be better assessed with you as a whole in mind.
It’s all about assessing risk and being proactive. You can’t necessarily “feel” high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high glucose, or even how behavioral health issues, such as stress, anxiety and depression, can affect feeling healthy… and as a result, many people let these go untreated, only to have to work a lot harder down the road to improve them.
A primary care provider can complete regular assessments of a patient’s entire picture of personal health and family history to understand their risk of developing a chronic disorder or disease and make recommendations for minimizing and screening for those risks.
For adults who feel healthy, a PCP can not only perform regular physical exam assessments, but they can also benchmark and track several important health-risk indicators, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol – ensuring that there are no significant changes over time that could indicate a bigger problem.
It’s important for adults to know these benchmarks, even if they ‘feel’ healthy – so that they can be aware of them and make lifestyle changes to reduce risk for more serious problems down the road.
What about kids and teens? Besides vaccinations, is it necessary for kids and teens to get annual check-ups?
Dr. Collier: Well-child care visits are important to monitor for healthy growth and development, and also allow for both the child and parent or guardian to feel comfortable with their provider.
Regular visits from a few days old to age 3, and then continuing yearly until the child reaches age 21, can help establish healthy habits early on.
Beyond ensuring your child stays up-to-date with their regular vaccinations, a well-child visit is a great chance for families to ask about any topics concerning their child’s health or development—including behavioral milestones and disorders, such as autism.
Just this year, our Redmond clinic joined a nationally acclaimed program called Reach Out and Read, where children from age 6 months to 5 years old are given a book at their well child care visit as a gift to promote early reading habits. One of the most important things we can do with our kids is read with them to help establish a love for reading at an early age. This has been shown to improve literacy rates and later success in school.
For teens, there are many newer vaccinations to help protect them from infections and viruses, such as meningococcal meningitis and HPV, they might encounter as they get older. These are equally important for both boys and girls.
Just like adults, kids and teens can look and act healthy, but they may have underlying health issues that regular visits can detect and track over time.
So, if adults go to their primary care provider for a regular checkup, what should they expect?
Dr. Collier: Let’s begin with defining what we mean when we say regular. Seeing a PCP every 2-3 years is sufficient between the ages of 21 and 50 years old, then increasing that to every year for ages 50 and beyond.
In addition to completing the assessments I mentioned earlier, a PCP will also provide individualized screening recommendations based on age and other risk factors known to contribute to colon cancer and skin cancer in men and women, breast and cervical cancer in women, and testicular cancer and prostate cancer in men.
Because guidelines change frequently and vary from patient to patient, a PCP can sort through the literature to help patients determine the best screening plan for them.
Mental well-being is an important part of a patient’s overall health too. Because a primary care provider often serves as the initial point of contact for all of a patient’s health concerns, we screen for and can treat many mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use.
Sometimes we hear that it is hard to get an appointment or find a primary care provider accepting new patients. Is this true and is there a benefit to seeing the same primary care provider, or can you get the same preventative care at those walk-in type clinics?
Dr. Collier: This is often something that I hear people talking about. While many parts of the country are struggling with a shortage of primary care physicians, our area—because it is desirable to live here, doesn’t have quite the same issue as some other areas.
In addition to establishing care with a physician as their primary care provider, patients increasingly also have the option to establish care with a nurse practitioner (ARNP) or a physician assistant (PA). All three types of providers can diagnose, treat and manage acute and chronic diseases, order and interpret labs and diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications. The growth of ARNPs and PAs in the primary care setting is helping to allow patients to be seen sooner and by a consistent provider.
“Walk-in style” or urgent care clinics are not designed for primary care, thus the advantage to establishing a relationship with a single provider cannot be highlighted enough.
- Primary care providers can get to know you over time, understand your family health history and concerns, your health preferences, and can more readily detect any changes to your health that may be concerning.
- Often a PCP knows other family members as well which helps them to know the familial issues that can run in families or how difficulties in the family can affect everyone’s health.
- Also, not only does the provider know the patient well, but so does the medical assistant (MA) working with the provider, the clinical nursing staff, and front desk administrative staff. Familiar faces and names help to put patients at ease and make for a more relaxed environment when coming to the clinic.
- Ultimately, all of these factors make it more convenient for the patient who is established in a primary care clinic so that they don’t have to explain their history at each visit, as they might have to do each time they encounter someone new in a walk-in setting.
Also, maintaining a relationship with one provider means your health information is stored in one electronic medical record with an easy-to-access patient portal, like we have at EvergreenHealth, so that you can access your own records, test results, etc. and communicate directly with your care team and providers.
Seeing a provider that is part of a larger health care system like EvergreenHealth ensures the care and treatment you may receive is part of a broader, coordinated team approach.
- Your PCP can make referrals to specialists who they work closely with for more advanced care or even collaborate with different types of medical professionals who are starting to see patients in the primary care setting too. This includes pharmacists, social workers, nurse care managers and tele-psychiatrists.
- For example, at my practice in Redmond, those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or those requiring blood thinning medication, can better manage and monitor their medication therapies with the support of EvergreenHealth’s board-certified pharmacists who now see patients in our office. Our pharmacists can also perform medication consults, in coordination with the PCP, for those patients who find themselves taking many medications every day, some of which they may not remember why they started in the first place.
- Research has shown patients benefit from a pharmacist’s specialized knowledge of medication, increased education and counseling about the medications they are taking and access to other pharmacist-provided preventive health services, such as smoking cessation.
A primary care provider should be viewed not as someone who you see when you are sick, but rather your personal guide to help you stay well.
I went into primary care because of my passion and desire to get to know patients over a long period of time and to help them achieve their health goals to the best of my ability.
I would be happy to meet you and your family, including children of all ages, and partner with you to help you maintain your healthiest and best self.