Why It’s Time to Get a Primary Care Physician
We think it would be ideal if everyone had a primary care provider, but we know this isn’t true. For those of you who are established with a primary care doc, good for you! But if you’re one of the many people who has not established themselves with a medical home, allow us to make our case for why we think you should take some time to get established somewhere.
In this Topic of the Month we will address a few different areas:
- Young people and primary care providers
- Older people and primary care providers
- Uninsured people and access to primary care providers
- What to look for when searching for a primary care provider
I’m Young and Healthy. Why Do I Need a Primary Care Provider?
If you keep up with us on Facebook (and we sure hope you do!), you’ve probably heard us sharing the story of 9News’ Steve Staeger lately. Steve is 31 years old. He’s young and fairly healthy, although his blood pressure and BMI (body mass index) is starting to be out of range. Both his parents are facing their own health battles, and on a recent flight home to be there for them, he came to the sudden realization that if he didn’t get his health on track, he may not be able to care for them. He also started to think more seriously about his lack of a primary care provider.
“… it’s been years since I’ve had a physical. I don’t have a primary care doctor in Colorado. Any time I’ve been sick, it usually means a trip to urgent care, which is costly and does nothing to further any health goals,” says Steve.
Does this sound like you? Even if it doesn’t sound like you right now, is there a chance this could be you in the near future? Then, maybe it’s time to take the first step – find yourself a primary care provider.
“It’s important for everyone of all ages to have a primary health care provider established because he/she can offer consistency and efficiency for numerous reasons,” says Stacey Brake, 9Health Fair Co-Director of Health and Wellness. Those reasons include:
- The familiarity of your health history
- Condition management
- Unnecessary use of ER or Urgent Care
“They get to know you and can tailor care to what they know about you,” says Brake. “Even if you only see a doctor once a year or every five years, it’s a place that will hold your medical records and can treat you appropriately rather than having to get to know someone new each time you may need a provider for something.”
No Time, No Money – Not an Excuse
According to the National Institutes on Aging (NIA), our risk of developing chronic diseases and health problems increases with age. Unfortunately, it’s a normal part of aging. Yet, many older people will not establish themselves with a primary doctor citing a lack of time or money as their reasoning. Another hurdle for many older adults is retirement.
“Health care is a major expense for older adults when they retire,” Brake says. “Most go on Medicare and some may not have other supplemental income to help with the costs. Not all providers take Medicare alone.”
However, the NIH encourages primary care visits because those providers can also assess whether you’re getting other care you need, such as food and shelter, or whether there is abuse or neglect going on in the home, or even memory issues.
If we don’t address health issues when they first creep up, they will take far more of our time and money later. Set yourself up for success now – your future self may thank you!
No Insurance? That’s Okay! You Can Still Find a Primary Care Provider.
The world of American healthcare is unstable. Right now, there are still people who don’t have insurance. But this doesn’t have to stop you from establishing yourself with a primary care provider.
According to Brake, “There are numerous clinics that will see people without insurance. They typically operate on a sliding scale or flat fee basis. So, people that are uninsured or underinsured can certainly get set up with a provider at one of these clinics. These clinics can also try to qualify a person for assistance or Medicaid.”
“Most providers will see people without insurance but will expect payment at the time of service,” adds Brake. “I would suggest to anyone without insurance to ask when making the appointment how much it will cost.”
(For more resources for healthcare check out this page.)
What to Look for When Choosing a Doctor
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a few tips for anyone looking to establish themselves with a new primary care provider. These tips include:
- Ask your friends, family and/or coworkers (referrals are always best)
- Check to see if they are in-network if you have insurance
- If you have specific health issues, try to find a doctor that is well-versed with these issues
Brake also recommends that you call their office and ask questions. You can also go for a consult. This is a great opportunity to make sure the staff in the office are attentive, listen to you and make you feel welcomed. If they don’t, that’s probably not the medical provider for you.
Remember, establishing yourself with a primary care provider is one of the best things you can do for your health in the long run.
Also, if something happens and you need to get into a provider, a new patient will take longer to get an appointment than someone who is established in the practice.
Seeing trends in your health can be an early warning sign and having an established provider will allow for this
They usually send you reminders about your next action to take – annual checkup, colonoscopy, etc.
Use your money wisely – use the medical home when possible to save money (versus ending up in urgent care or the emergency room).