4 reasons to see a primary care provider — even if you have a specialist
If you have a chronic condition, your first thought may be to go to a specialist who treats it. For example, if you have high blood pressure, you may see a cardiologist regularly. Or you may go to an endocrinologist to keep track of your type 2 diabetes.
Seeing a specialist makes sense, especially if you stay on top of these appointments. You know what else makes sense? Seeing a primary care provider (PCP) every year. Annual wellness visits are a key part of helping people get healthier.
“Your PCP is there to be an advocate for you,” says Michael Hochman, M.D., M.P.H., a physician in Los Angeles and host of the Healthy Skeptic, MD podcast. “Specialists often zero in on a specific organ or condition. They don’t necessarily think about the bigger picture. A PCP is someone who can balance that.”
Here are 4 important reasons why seeing a PCP every year is a good idea.
1. You’re more likely to stay on top of your medical care
PCPs and specialists deal with different health issues. So, seeing a PCP in addition to a specialist raises the chances that general health problems will be addressed. “Most specialists don’t even think about preventive care,” says Dr. Hochman. But research shows that people with PCPs are more likely to be up to date on vaccines and receive preventive tests, including blood pressure and cancer screenings.1
2. PCPs can help keep track of all medications
If you’re an older adult or have a chronic health problem, you may take several prescription drugs. Almost a quarter of all adults between the ages of 40 and 79 take at least 5 prescription drugs.2
There is a chance that these medications may cause side effects when taken together, notes Dr. Hochman. Medications are often prescribed by different providers — a PCP can help keep track of all of them. They can also talk to your specialists about adjusting doses or tell you whether to stop taking a medication entirely.
3. You will build a better bond with a PCP
When someone only sees a specialist, there’s not always time to get to know them very well. But when you visit a PCP throughout the year, there’s an opportunity to create a stronger relationship.
Plus, “It’s good to have someone you know and trust to serve as a second opinion if a specialist gives a recommendation that you’re unsure about,” says Dr. Hochman.
A PCP is focused on taking care of you as a whole person. They look at the big picture, which is your physical health as well as your mental and emotional health.
4. You may save money
You may not have a PCP because you’re worried about the cost. But most insurance plans cover an annual wellness visit at no additional cost.
Besides, American adults who have a PCP spend about one-third less on health care costs than adults who don’t have one.3 That’s because annual checkups may keep tabs on health problems that might get worse. When illnesses aren’t diagnosed, they may lead to more expensive tests, more provider visits and even hospitalization.
How to find a primary care provider
Don’t have a PCP? Now that you know why you need a provider, here’s how to find one.4
- Ask around. Friends, family members or neighbors may all have PCPs that they like. You can also ask your specialists for a suggestion.
- Check with the insurance plan. Call the health plan and ask for a list of local providers who take the insurance. You can also use the plan’s website to search for a doctor in your area.
- Schedule a meet-and-greet. Once you’ve zeroed in on a provider you think you might like, ask their office to set up an appointment. (Note that you will likely be charged for the visit.) But talking to the provider may be worth the money. Ask about any special concerns you may have, or how they will communicate with you when you’re not at the provider’s office. You may be able to get a sense if the provider and staff is the right fit just by the answers you get.
Finding a PCP you like is worth the effort. It’s someone you plan to have an ongoing relationship with, so you want to be comfortable with them. After all, they will have your health in their hands.