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Do You Really Need a Primary Care Doctor?

Do You Really Need a Primary Care Doctor?

A study in early 2023 revealed that one third of Americans don’t have a primary care provider (PCP) to oversee and manage their health care needs. Part of that is no doubt due to lack of access or doctor shortage in some parts of the country. Another reason is a growing number of adults who simply don’t think they need a regular doctor. Some choose to use urgent care or ERs when an illness or need arises. Others believe that as long as they are healthy, they don’t have a need for a regular physician. The fact is, no matter your age or your health status, everybody can – and should – have a primary care provider. Think of this provider as your health care partner for helping you stay healthy and well at every stage of your life, but also as the person who knows you and your history and can help you manage and prevent chronic illnesses.

Need more reasons to have a PCP? Consider these statistics:

  • By age 27 our health starts to decline
  • 6 out of 10 adults in the U.S. live with a chronic disease
  • 4 out of 10 adults in the U.S. have two or more chronic conditions

What this means is as we age, we are more likely to see specialists for various concerns, issues, and conditions. But for any non-emergency situation, your first call should always be to a PCP. They can treat illnesses and minor injuries of course, but more importantly they can help identify risk and concerns before they become major health issues. They get to know your history, your lifestyle, and your challenges, and can provide care based on your risk levels, preferences, and health goals. And, when specialists are needed, they can help coordinate care across all of your providers.

One of the most important roles of a PCP is to help you stay well and reduce your risk for or better manage chronic diseases. This means your PCP will help guide you in lifestyle changes, order routine screenings and blood tests, monitor and manage blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and other vital markers, evaluate and monitor mental health, manage medications, and treat and manage many chronic conditions. Learn more about primary care at El Camino Health.

Types of Primary Care Providers

PCPs are often called general practitioners since they oversee your general health and everyday health concerns and questions. Depending on your insurance and your carrier network, you may be able to select a primary care provider from this list:

  • Internist – an M.D. or D.O who treats adults
  • Family Practitioner – an M.D. or D.O who treats all members of the family, regardless of age
  • Pediatrician – an M.D. or D.O who treats children up to the age of about 18-21
  • Obstetrician/Gynecologist – an M.D. or D.O who treats women during and after childbearing years, although an Obstetrician is focused on pregnancy care
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP) – a nurse with additional, graduate-level education and training who treats patients of all ages
  • Physician Assistants (PA) – a medical professional with a graduate-level education and advanced training who treats patients of all ages
  • Geriatrician – an M.D. or D.O who specializes in the healthcare needs of aging patients (typically age 75 and up)

Choosing the Right PCP

Because your PCP will be your partner in health, it’s important to choose one you will be comfortable working with for the foreseeable future. Things to consider include:

  • Type of provider. From the list above, which one best fits your needs?
  • Gender. Are you most comfortable with a man or woman?
  • Location. What’s most convenient for you – near work or home?
  • Hospital affiliation. If you prefer a particular hospital, make sure your doctor has privileges there.
  • Online convenience. Having an online patient portal such as MyChart makes it easy to access your records, refill prescriptions, and email your doctor when it’s most convenient.
  • Video or phone appointment. If virtual appointments are important to you, make sure your provider offers them and your insurance will cover them.
  • Flexible scheduling. If you can’t get to the doctor during regular work hours, be sure they have extended hours (early morning or evening appointments) or weekend availability.
  • Language and culture. Find someone who speaks the language you’re most comfortable with and who is sensitive to your cultural and religious needs and preferences.
  • Insurance. Make sure your insurance plan is accepted by the provider’s office.

No matter how young or old you are, how healthy you are, or how many different specialists you now see, you will benefit from have a Primary Care Provider on your side helping you manage all of your health care needs. If you don’t currently have a PCP, consider getting one now. For helping find one who’s right for your needs, click here.


This article first appeared in the October 2023 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.