by Blake Herzog
The idea of having a primary care provider may seem outdated to many people accustomed to instant access, relying on episodic help through the “gig” economy, or who relocate frequently and simply don’t have the opportunity to build a relationship with one doctor or medical office.
When patients consider themselves to be healthy and don’t need maintenance medications, they’re more likely to find it expedient to go to urgent care, retail clinics inside drugstores or seek advice over the phone or through telemedicine services.
A nationwide shortage of primary care specialists isn’t making it any easier for those who want one to seek them out. But there are reasons to go to the effort, even if your insurance doesn’t require you to have one and some options that can make the process of finding one easier.
A good primary care provider is an expert in treating a broad range of symptoms and illnesses, including chronic conditions like diabetes, and helps ensure that patients get all recommended screenings and vaccinations. Ideally, they see you often enough to develop a baseline knowledge of your health and recognize more serious issues early in their development.
This provider should also serve as your envoy and advocate to the rest of the health care world, ordering further tests and referring you to specialists whenever it’s warranted while monitoring your care for such issues as medication interactions and conflicting messages from others.
Multiple studies have found patients with a primary care provider have better health outcomes with diabetes and other chronic conditions, have recommended screenings that catch cancer at earlier stages, and lower the overall cost of care for the patient with fewer ER visits and hospitalizations.
Given the increasing scarcity of physicians providing primary care, you should consider all the options you have for getting this type of care for you and your family:
Family medicine physicians — These practitioners care for patients of all ages and are qualified to act as primary care provider for entire families, offering the convenience and security of one trusted source for everyone.
Internal medicine physicians — These specialists treat adults, from young adults to the elderly, so they can be more versed in illnesses that affect adults more than children. They are trained to make a wide variety of diagnoses and juggle multiple conditions in one patient.
Pediatricians — These doctors specialize in children, their development, and guiding them toward a healthy future. They treat minor injuries and illnesses as well as more complex conditions.
OB-GYNs — These doctors provide reproductive and pregnancy health care for female patients beginning in adolescence, performing related exams and procedures. Women who are in their childbearing years and do not have chronic conditions unrelated to the reproductive system may be able to have their OB-GYN act as their primary care provider.
Physician’s assistants/nurse practitioners — These are professionals who obtain masters’ or doctorate degrees in health care. In Arizona, PAs must be supervised by a physician who may or may not be in the same office while NPs can establish independent practices. Both can perform nearly all the functions of a primary care physician.