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How important is having a primary care physician? Through primary care and routine check-ups, serious problems can be headed off early. It has been estimated that adults who have a primary care provider are almost 20 percent less likely to face premature death than those who only see specialists for their care.
Choosing a primary care physician (PCP) can be a very personal decision. After all, this is the doctor who will be managing the health of you and your family for years to come. But having a PCP is foundational to good lifetime health.
PCPs treat common medical problems and help patients manage their overall health by recommending screenings, making referrals, encouraging healthy habits and much more.
“Primary care physicians manage the general medical care of their patients, from baseline health and wellness, to the treatment of acute illnesses, to the management of chronic medical conditions,” explains Dr. Rajive Zachariah, an internal medicine physician at Straub Medical Center. “They are the leader of a patient’s care team, and the one doctor who knows them best.”
Doctors in a number of fields can be designated as PCPs and can meet a patient’s general medical needs, from preventive care exams to keeping you healthy through each stage of life. These doctors include:
• Family medicine physicians, whose practice includes treating children and adults of all ages, and may include obstetrics and minor surgery.
• Pediatricians, who provide care for newborns, infants, children and adolescents.
• Internal medicine physicians, who specialize in adult care and treat a variety of medical conditions.
With the growing complexity of health care and patients’ desire for convenience, many patients also see nurse practitioners (NPs) for their primary care needs. NPs are registered nurses who have advanced clinical training. They are able to provide some aspects of primary care, complementing the work of primary care physicians.
“At Hawaii Pacific Health, we work in a team-based care model centered on our patients,” says Kelli Yamaguchi, a nurse practitioner at Straub Medical Center. “Nurse practitioners add to the holistic nature of care given to the patients, and help us provide more care, to more patients, with greater convenience and personalization.”
Because your PCP already knows you and your medical history, they are usually the ones who detect the presence of abnormalities before they cause long-lasting harm. For example, simple testing during a visit with your PCP can reveal health problems, such as high blood pressure, that may go unnoticed, leading to more-serious issues later in life.
If needed, your PCP is there to refer you to advanced testing or specialists. Specialists and other health care team members report back to the PCP, who keeps a comprehensive summary of tests, procedures and care patients receive.
If you already have a PCP, you should make it a point to see them at least once a year to help manage your overall health. Depending on your age and health, you may not need a complete physical, but you should touch base to update preventive care issues and ensure you’re on track to stay healthy.
And if it’s been more than a year since your last checkup, take a step today that helps you stay healthier for years to come and call your provider to set up an appointment. At the very least, you’ll be reassured to learn that all is well.
“Regular visits are invaluable opportunities for both the patient and the primary care physician, “says Zachariah. “When we see patients regularly, we can come to understand who they really are, so we can interpret their symptoms in a much more complete context. That enhances a doctor’s ability to make an accurate diagnosis from the outset, which can prove to be significant.”
To find a primary care physician and reap the benefits of personalized care,
An Apple A Day…Or At Least A Visit A Year
While physical exams are not a one-size-fits-all test, most adult patients can expect the following during their yearly checkup:
• Blood pressure screening – Every three to five years beginning at age 18 through age 40. Annually after age 40.
• Cholesterol and diabetes screenings – Periodically for both men and women, depending on risk factors, starting by age 45 at the latest.
• Pap smears – For women starting at age 21. Every three years for ages 21-29, and every five years for those ages 30-65 if an HPV test is done at the same time.
• Chlamydia screening – For sexually active women ages 15-25.
• Reproductive health counseling.
• Annual mammogram – For women starting at age 40.
• Colon cancer screening – For both men and women starting at age 50.
• Flu shots and other immunizations.
A helpful website for patients seen at Hawaii Pacific Health’s family of medical centers is MyChart® by Hawaii Pacific Health. Here, patients can have online access to their health records, as well as their family members’ records, and receive reminders of when their next vaccinations are due. Learn more here.