Why having a primary care physician is important

by Chrysalis

I read a post that disturbed me the other day. It was discussing the value of primary care physicians (PCPs). I was stunned by some of the comments. Surprised that people’s perceptions of what a PCP does would be viewed in such a poor light.

Well, I do value the primary care physician and I’ll tell you why. I am just simply going to state some of the reasons why I feel a good primary care physician is worth his/her weight in gold, and not just for their power to wield a referral letter.  I’d rather not have to be referred. And I don’t believe in exploiting the primary care physician. They are not a means to an end. They are your first line of defense in getting well and staying well.

Having a doctor that knows you well is paramount, in my opinion. It’s the dynamics of familiarity that forges this doctor-patient relationship, and makes it the unique and invaluable asset that it is.

Your primary care physician gets to know you over a period of time. Yes, even with rushed office visits. They get a sense of the person you are. They can get to know your values, your family situation, your job pressures, and maybe even your goals. These may seem like unimportant aspects in relation to your healthcare, but they can all have a profound affect on your health. Knowledge of these things may provide valuable information as they assess what is troubling you.

When you are in pain, you don’t have to feel like you need to prove yourself to them. You don’t have to feel shame in telling them you are hurting and need their help. You don’t have to be afraid they will think you’re a “drug seeker.” They know your history. I can tell you, when you are really in agony it helps to have someone treating you that knows you.

Being familiar with you helps them to know what is and isn’t normal for you. They are able to track and note the changes they observe. How about that new onset hypertension? Wouldn’t you rather they catch that hypertension before you present to the ER with a stroke? I would!

Perhaps they observed a swelling in an area of your body that you hadn’t noticed. Something that would look normal to a physician that wasn’t familiar with you, because it was too soon to be noticed as a threat. This has happened to me (unrelated to the breast cancer). It was caught early and dealt with. I have my PCP to thank for this. Other doctors never noticed it.

If you feel you don’t have a good fit with your PCP, remember, it takes time to get to know each other. As with any relationship you need to communicate honesty with one another. Give them a chance. No one starts out knowing another person on sight. Relationships are built over time.

My list was much too long for me to post. I didn’t even get to touch on their knowledge base, and I can’t write a novel here. I’d love to hear some of your positive experiences. What have you found to be of value in your primary care physician?

Chrysalis has worked as both an LPN and EMT and is a cancer survivor. She blogs at The Positive Medical Blog, where this post originally appeared.

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  • Chip Allen

    I couldn’t agree more. Two weeks ago my PCP walked into the exam room and the first words out of his mouth were “I see that the level of pain in your back is higher than usual today.” I’m a chronic pain patient due to spinal injuries and having a PCP to manage my overall health care is a God send for me.

  • http://somebodyhealme.dianalee.net Diana Lee

    I so completely agree with you. My PCP is my lifeline. I have some great specialists, but she keeps everything ticking. So much so that I travel an hour to see my PCP even though I moved away a few years ago. My health status is far too complicated to give up a 13+ year relationship. Especially when that relationship is so darned good! I’m very, very lucky.

  • twicker

    A great post, to which I’d like to add one quick note:
    If you feel like you and your PCP aren’t a good fit, especially after a couple of visits — feel free to find another one. Not every PCP is good with every patient, and not every patient is good with every PCP. All involved are human, and humans have individual differences that mean that some connect and some don’t. One great fit may be the rational actor blessing you’ve been looking for, who’s all business — not like that touchy-feely emotive guy before. Another great fit might be the person who’s warm and emotive, who seems to really want to get to know you — not like that cold stone wall you saw before.

    If you’re going to invest in a relationship (and you should want to), then you need to make sure it’s the right relationship. Give the first one a chance, but don’t be afraid to give a different doctor a chance.

  • http://fertilityfile.com IVF-MD

    I echo the above sentiments. If you are dissatisfied with your doctor, don’t just shrug and accept it. Take action until you find someone who gives you the care you like. Then take it a step further and consider recommending that doctor to your friends and family. Over time, this is the best way to teach doctors and their staff how to meet the needs of the patients.

    I read on this site a lot of complaints people have about their doctors and it makes me wonder why they keep going back for more of the same bad stuff? I’m wondering if it’s a misguided reverence for the authoritarian image that doctors sometimes project that makes patients just put up with accepting bad service. Any opinions?

    • A.N. Mousse

      I don’t keep going back for the same dissatisfying experience anymore. I tried and tried and tried to find a PCP who was a good fit for me – I have given up. I have actually given up on almost all doctors. Still see the endo to keep the thyroid dosage correct – but even the oncologist I’m supposed to be seeing twice a year is probably off the list. He’s great – but he sold his practice to the hospital and is independently contracted with them – so now when I go to his office for a check up I go through 5 layers of people before I see him, check in as if to the hospital, sign a 5 page admission form and am expected to put on a hospital bracelet. It’s way too traumatic.

  • boundbyinsurance

    I think it’s a combination of factors. In many areas, a PCP is hard to find (and that’s ANY PCP, let alone a good one), particularly with insurance constraints. Doctors who are known for being good have closed panels or six-month waiting lists. So often people end up signed up with the first person who will accept them. They don’t have the luxury of choice. And if they find out they don’t like the doctor they have, it may be months or even years before they’d get the opportunity to switch among the limited choices available.

    And even when a patient finds a good doctor, financial circumstances may change. My spouse’s doctor of 10 years, for example, had been in practice his entire career with a group which suddenly got bought by a larger group. With fewer than two weeks notice, we received a letter informing us the larger group took only Medicare HMO patients, so all others were being dropped and referred to Dr X, whose office was 40 minutes away from us. We were left scrambling to find someone for him. That, coupled with a terrible hospital experience in which my PCP never checked on me and then refused to schedule a follow-up appointment in a timely manner after my discharge (How could he? His panel had grown to 5,000 patients!) led us running to concierge medicine.

  • DanaW

    My career has been spent in and out of primary care offices trying to impress the importance of tighter glycemic control, using insulin sooner, explaining what GLP-1 is and why it’s effective therapy for people with type 2 diabetes.

    I’ve also been very critical of my own PCP. He’s a family practitioner and never has really impressed me. But, I stayed with him because I didn’t have to visit him professionally as well as personally.

    In June, 2008, one appointment changed my opinion. He was concerned over a swollen supraclavicular node on my left side that another physician (OB/GYN) had dismissed for the time being. That node ended-up being malignant and led to a diagnosis of Stage II Hodgkins Lymphoma a few weeks later.

    He doesn’t really know me. I don’t have a relationship with him. He doesn’t have time nor the desire. But, he did, in essence save my life, and I’m grateful.

  • Meg Bressette

    My PCP who I have been fortunate to have as my PCP for close to 20 years is an absolute gem. I have a serious chronic medical condition which he manages with me and always makes time for me when I am in need of an appointment. I truly appreciate his care and know that I am better because he is my PCP.

  • http://secondbasedispatch.com Jackie Fox

    Hear, hear!! Well said and I’m with you all the way. I dread the day my family doctor retires–my husband and I have been with him for more than 15 years. I think some people who complain about their doctors need to remember relationships are a two-way street. Fix it if you can, move on if you can’t. Any one of us can have a bad experience–the question is how we choose to act on it.

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