If it’s been a while since you last saw your primary care physician (PCP), there is no time like the present. People who go to their regular doctor generally live longer and have the potential for fewer health problems. You may feel like you only need to check in when illness strikes, but building a relationship with your PCP can make a significant difference in your well-being, especially as you get older.
What is the role of a primary care physician?
“Primary care physicians are the central pillars of medicine for our patients,” says Radhika Bali, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at Westmed Medical Group.
By caring for you throughout your life, a PCP can anticipate and detect potential health problems before they become serious concerns. “Your PCP will know when you need to see them — at least once a year, or more frequently if you have developing or underlying medical issues. They will also know when to refer you to specialist who they work closely with to provide more advanced care if needed,” adds Dr. Bali.
A PCP’s goal is to provide a comprehensive level of care for all patients who enter their clinic doors. They are important for young adult, adult, and geriatric populations in providing acute care, as well as addressing chronic medical conditions and preventative care. “You can see your PCP for routine physical exams once a year, sick visits when you need acute care, and follow-up visits to manage chronic medical concerns,” explains Dr. Bali.
PCPs should provide guidance on the following issues during your annual physical appointment:
- Preventative screening tests. A PCP will ensure that you’re up to date on all routine cancer screenings, such as mammograms, PAP smears, colonoscopies, and prostate-specific antigen tests. Those with a history of smoking may also benefit from a lung CT scan or abdominal ultrasound. Most of these screenings have a recommended age when testing can stop. Your physician will help you decide how long the screenings are beneficial for you.
- Immunizations. Certain vaccines, such as pneumonia, are recommended at age 65 and in younger patients who are immunosuppressed, smokers, or have certain chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or lung disease. The shingles shot is recommended for patients 50 and up regardless of medical history. A yearly flu shot and COVID-19 vaccination (following the current CDC’s recommendations) are also advised.
- Overall wellness. Your PCP can provide recommendations on your exercise routine, as well as advice on following a healthy diet, getting a better night’s sleep, managing stress, and assessing your risk of falls.
- Mental health. Depression and anxiety are common in older adults. If you are suffering from feelings of sadness, extreme stress, and alcohol or drug dependence, talk to your PCP about ways you can get help.
- Personalized health care. Your PCP will create a health care plan that works best for you. This includes working to meet specific goals, addressing unique needs, and following an individually-tailored schedule of lab work, immunizations, and other required tests.
- Referrals for the right specialist. When you have a medical question or concern, your PCP is generally the first point of contact. Whether you need an endocrinologist, a dermatologist, or a knee surgeon, your PCP can find the best match for your health needs. If you see multiple specialists, they will follow up and coordinate care across different disciplines.
Questions to discuss with your PCP
It can be difficult to remember everything you want to discuss at your appointment. Make a list of questions and concerns ahead of time. If you are over age 65 and recently came in for an Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) with your PCP, you may also have noticed our well-being screening postcards. These postcards serve as a reminder of important topics to discuss during your visit such as mental health, medication costs, fall risk, bladder control, and activities of daily living.
What you should bring to your appointment
If you’ve just made an appointment, you’re on your way to enjoying better physical and mental well-being. Dr. Bali recommends patients bring the following: a list of questions and concerns, current medications, recent lab work results, and the name of the last doctor or specialist that was a part of their care.
Let Us Be Your Partner in Well-Being
At Summit Health, we care about our patients’ overall health. There are many reasons you may come in to visit with us, but we want to be sure you get the most out of every appointment. At your next visit, be sure to talk to your provider about appropriate screenings and necessary evaluations. And, if you are over the age of 65, you may want to discuss fall risk, bladder health, physical activity expectation, and mental health. Additionally, if you are having trouble affording your medications let your provider know. It’s important to have these conversations to stay on top of your health and minimize your risk of developing certain diseases.