Staying away from the doctor is easy for individuals who feel well. But it isn’t the best strategy for long-term health, local providers say.
Selecting a primary care provider – and keeping up with regular visits – helps catch health concerns early, builds a strong patient-provider relationship, and can make appointment scheduling faster and easier when an urgent need arises, according to Megan Brown, MD, Hamilton Physician Group – Catoosa Campus.
“The ultimate goal of primary care is to prevent disease before it happens,” she said. “It is important for everyone to have a primary care provider who can help them navigate specific age-related screenings and health goals.”
In some cases, regular screenings can mean the difference between life and death – early detection is crucial for good outcomes in many diseases.
Many seemingly healthy adults rely solely on walk-in clinics, urgent care and emergency room visits when symptoms surface. But without a primary provider as part of their care team, patients may never see someone who understands their overall health.
A primary provider can help coordinate care between specialists when needed, guard against medication interactions, ensure health screenings and tests are performed on recommended schedules and better understand the patient’s overall history, said Holly Hamil, DO, Hamilton Convenient Care – Varnell. They can also support patients who are ready for a lifestyle change.
Such was the case with a patient Hamil saw for an annual physical. His cholesterol was elevated, and his liver enzymes were above normal, she said, so she sent him for a liver ultrasound.
It showed fatty changes to the liver. But after altering his diet and increasing his physical activity, the patient could lower his cholesterol by more than 50 points, lose weight and improve his liver enzymes.
“This was all done with simple lifestyle changes and no medication interventions,” Hamil said.
Hamil sees patients in a primary care capacity at Varnell Convenient Care. All of Hamilton’s Convenient Care locations provide primary care services.
Monitoring for health issues like diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure, breast cancer and colon cancer is part of annual visits. Some illnesses are silent with no symptoms until the problem is well advanced. Brown recalled a patient in her 50s who was diagnosed with breast cancer thanks to following a screening timeline.
“It was caught early and treated completely with surgery,” Brown said. “She is now cancer-free and may have had a very different outcome if she did not keep up with her yearly visits.”
Annual visits can also impact the quality of life, Lewis said, as every patient has physical, emotional and spiritual needs. He said he once treated a professional musician whose career and quality of life had diminished because of a hand deformity that had developed.
Finding a Provider
To find a provider who is a good fit, Brown recommends patients begin by checking with their insurance companies for a list of providers in their area. Hamil suggests also asking family and friends for doctor recommendations.
Expect to have an in-depth health history taken at the first visit and be prepared to provide information on previous surgeries, diagnoses, and family history.
“If there are specific questions you want answered, it’s a good idea to write them down beforehand, so you don’t forget them,” Brown said.
Finding a provider who is a good fit can take more than one try. It’s important to find a provider who works well with you.