The Advantages of Establishing Care with a Primary Care Provider
By Brandon Smith, ARNP, Provider at EvergreenHealth Primary Care Canyon Park
It's incredibly easy to delay thinking about medical care until you really need it. However, putting off routine care can have more unwanted side effects than you might expect – if you wait until a potential issue has escalated, not only is it expensive to seek emergency medical care, but often times patients have fewer options when it comes to choosing their provider team when they find themselves in an emergency situation. Luckily, establishing ongoing care with a primary care provider can prevent issues before they arise, and ensure you receive care from a familiar provider you know and trust.
The term "primary care provider" or "PCP" is commonly used in the medical world, but it can mean different things to different people. For me, what it really means is that you have a primary health care provider that encompasses the whole spectrum of health. Rather than specializing in a specific area, such as cardiology, a primary care provider has an overall understanding of your health. While some people see a PCP for a specific ailment, most people establish care with a primary care provider, so that provider can understand them holistically.
In addition, though many people think of a primary care provider as a traditional doctor, there are many medical professionals who specialize in primary care. For example, physician assistants or advanced registered nurse practitioners, like myself, provide very similar treatment in a primary care setting.
Regardless of which type of provider you decide to see, it's a good idea to always have a primary care provider. One of the most important aspects of having a primary care provider is the continuity of care. This means that no matter what, you have a provider who understands you holistically and can monitor your health throughout your lifetime. Continuity of care helps providers guide you towards better health no matter what stage of life you're in.
In addition, continuity of care saves you money in the long-term. Emergency care services can add up quickly for the patient and the health care system. Seeking emergency care, especially if it's not the most appropriate level of care for you, increases the overall cost of health care for everyone. By establishing care with a primary care provider, the strain is reduced on patient's wallets and the health care system as a whole.
Your Annual Exam
Establishing care with a PCP doesn't mean you have to see them frequently. For healthy individuals, I recommend paying a visit to their PCP annually. Typically, during an annual wellness visit, we'll examine patients' general health, which includes routine exams for both mental and physical health.
During an annual exam, we want to ensure that even if someone appears healthy on the surface, there's not something more happening internally. We'll perform some basic screening labs, a blood test and a physical exam.
Typically, we'll discuss diet, exercise and ensure a patient's body weight is appropriate for their specific body type. We'll also conduct a blood examination to test for diabetes and cholesterol, since those issues plague our country. Blood tests can also be a good indicator for testing organ function, such as the kidneys, liver and gallbladder. In addition, we preform a hands-on portion to feel patients' throat and listen to their heart and lungs.
We'll also use this time to check in with our patient's mental wellness. The COVID-19 pandemic reiterated the importance of mental health, and your PCP will use some time of your annual wellness exam to see how you're feeling mentally. Your PCP's job is to listen, and this includes understanding your emotional well-being, too.
Finally, be sure to use your time with your PCP to make sure all of your questions are answered. It may be helpful to jot your questions down in advance and to bring a list to your appointment. I encourage my patients to maximize their appointment time by ensuring they feel heard and are satisfied with the information we discuss.
To learn more about primary care or to find a primary care physician that's right for you, please visit www.evergreenhealth.com/primary-care.