The First Line of Defense: Expert Advice on the Importance of Primary Care
You’re busy, young and feel healthy – do you need a primary care physician (PCP)? The answer is yes, you most certainly do.
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A PCP is integral for receiving optimum care, keeping you healthy as you age. When problems arise, which eventually happens to everyone, a PCP is the first line of defense.
Leading PCPs from Greater Cincinnati healthcare networks weigh in on why regular visits are important and what makes an outstanding patient-physician relationship.
Continuity of Care
Researchers at the Journal of Health Affairs found that patients with a PCP have better management of chronic diseases, lower overall healthcare costs and a higher level of satisfaction with their care.
Those benefits can be attributed to many factors, including continuity of care, which is a foundation of primary care. “Each person needs a PCP whether they are young, old, healthy or sick – this physician will become your advocate no matter where you go or who you need to see, from the cardiologist to a surgeon,” says Omar Siddiqi, MD, primary care physician at TriHealth Physician Partners. “A ‘PCP’ is not only a primary care physician, but a preventative care physician, preventing problems before they begin.”
PCPs are expertly trained to look at their patient’s “big picture,” instead of immediately focusing on fragmented issues as a specialist does. “Patients need a ‘ringleader’ to coordinate their care between specialists, hospitals, care facilities and other aspects of healthcare,” says Douglas Saunders, MD, primary care physician at Mercy Health Physicians. “Knowing that they have a physician who is knowledgeable of their history and involved with their total care gives patients a sense of security in their healthcare, leading to satisfaction for both the patient and physician.”
The positive impact of receiving checkups from PCPs begins at birth. Two pediatric primary care experts from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center share their view of how a PCP shapes lives.
“We often serve children who are living in poverty or on public insurance and have a lot of social needs that impact health,” says Mona Mansour, MD, director of primary care at Cincinnati Children’s and a professor in the University of Cincinnati Department of Pediatrics. “We are patient-centered, ensuring that care is accessible, efficient, focused on quality improvement and that families have access where they need it, how they need it.”
A pediatric PCP has a special opportunity to develop long-term relationships with patients and their families, explains Nick DeBlasio, MD, pediatric physician in the Pediatric Primary Care Center at Cincinnati Children’s. “Pediatrics is especially rewarding because you get to see children grow and change – it’s a real treat to be able to play a role in that process.”
Cincinnati Children’s ensures children have a foundation to thrive by tracking growth and development, keeping vaccinations up to date, making sure children are prepared for kindergarten and much more.
Advocate for Better Preventative Care
Although PCPs provide expertise and support, patients have to follow their physician’s advice outside of the exam room. It’s similar to a gym membership: joining the gym and listening to a personal trainer will equip you with information that you have to act upon to see results.
“Primary care only works well when the patient is involved in his/her own care. I see myself as more of a coach than a father figure that rules from on high,” says Paul Yang, MD, primary care physician at Kettering Physician Network. “A patient cannot get better unless they work toward improving themselves, i.e. watching their diet, exercising regularly, doing things in moderation.”
Achieving health and wellness goals is more effective in the setting of a successful doctor-patient relationship. “The most important thing is basic communication – having the ability to allow the patient to guide the visit,” says Dale Block, MD, primary care physician at Premier Family Care of Mason. “I always teach the concept of entering the room and asking open-ended questions like, ‘What brings you to see me today?’ We use the concept of AIDET: Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation and a Thank you. It’s a way to help our patients relax and is a key to effective communication here at Premier.”
PCPs juggle a litany of patients from different backgrounds, each with their own set of health concerns. For Anita Saini, MD, a primary care physician (general internal medicine) at UC Health, the responsibility requires special attention to each individual’s specific needs.
“I care for patients whose ages range from 18 to 97-plus years old. Many of my patients span across three generations from the same family and each generation often has a different perspective. I try to understand and build a plan tailored to each patient’s perspective of their health condition.”
Viral Patel, DO, a PCP at St. Elizabeth Physicians, agrees. “The keys to a successful doctor-patient relationship are having the ability to relate to the patient in terms of their social structure, financial constraints and overall goals of well-being.”
Save Time and Money
Health insurance costs and time restraints are just two culprits that keep many adults from seeking care until something serious occurs. Hospital emergency rooms and priority care clinics are immediate, but the doctors and attendees won’t have a comprehensive medical record without a PCP.
“To have somebody in your back pocket when you really need them when you get sick or have a sinus infection – a PCP will probably cost much less than an urgent care clinic,” says Gwendolyn L Welsh, DO, primary care physician at The Christ Hospital Physicians. “Short, acute-type visits are not only quicker, they are much cheaper than going to an emergency room.”
Regular checkups allow PCPs to catch health issues before they spiral out of control. “There are a lot of medical conditions patients are unaware of, where they still feel fine – the two most common are diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Welsh.
Having an expert to guide patients through the healthcare system saves time, money and worry. “Patients who report having a personal family care physician have better health outcomes at lower costs, which in turn helps us meet our nation’s triple aim health initiative: lower healthcare costs, improved population health outcomes and a better patient experience,” says Mark Boyd, MD, primary care physician at St. Elizabeth Physicians.