Why do I need a primary care doctor?

Doctor questioning patient at an appointment

If you’re relatively young and feel healthy, you may think you don’t need to find a primary care physician or to see them regularly. But there are significant benefits to having a general practitioner in your life.

I think I’m healthy. Why would I need to see a doctor every year or so?

Once you’re over 21, there are a number of preventive procedures that are recommended. For women, for example, that would be a pap smear every one, three or five years, depending on the individual. Most adults also need periodic tetanus shots and immunization updates.

Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for preventive procedures change every so often, they may not require you to see a primary care doctor every year on the dot. But in addition to taking care of those procedures, a general practitioner can be on the lookout for more chronic problems that may develop.

If a physician is familiar with your health history, he or she will be better able to treat you if you do have a problem that needs immediate attention — sudden, unexplained abdominal pain, for example.

Will seeing a primary care physician save me money?

Take that example of abdominal pain. If you don’t have a regular physician with whom you’ve established care, your only option for addressing your pain might be the emergency department. If that happens, the cost out of pocket will be significantly more than if you visited a primary care office.

Doesn’t it take longer to get an appointment at a primary care office than at urgent care or the emergency department?

The length of time to get in to see a primary care physician is a concern, especially for new patients. But once you’ve seen a doctor at least once to establish care as an existing patient, you can get an appointment more quickly.

If you haven’t already established care with a primary care physician, you could face a six- to eight-week wait at many U.S. practices.

My employer provides annual biometric screenings. Doesn’t that cover everything?

Most employer-provided biometric screenings test for diabetes and measure height, weight, cholesterol and blood pressure.

You might need other tests performed, though.

For example, women 40 and older need regular mammograms. Other adults may need pap smears or colonoscopies. If you have particular health risk factors, you may need yet other tests and preventive procedures beyond a biometric screening. Your primary care doctor can help you determine what’s needed for your best health.

What can a primary care doctor do that urgent care can’t?

Primary care offices offer a variety of services that urgent care might not, including preventive care, acute injury treatment, chronic disease management and birth control prescriptions, as well as minor procedures like mole removal and ingrown toenail removal. Some primary care offices even provide fracture care.

If you develop a problem and need to see one or more specialists, your primary care physician can coordinate treatment plans among specialists, making sure those plans don’t contradict one another.

Take this to your next doctor's appointment to make the most of your visit

OK, so where do I find a primary care doctor for myself?

Patients commonly find their doctors through word of mouth and their health plan website. Ask for recommendations from family and friends, and consider a doctor’s office location and hours and whether those are compatible with your life.

If you work an unusual shift, consider whether the doctor has an online care portal that allows you to message them outside of their hours. On the office’s website, you can usually learn about a provider’s services and specialties, which is important if you’re looking for someone to address a specific need.

The first step in the journey to your best health begins with a primary care provider who cares

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