By Erica Swegler, M.D., Photo courtesy of Village Medical
Do you remember the last time you paid a visit to your primary care physician or advanced practice provider? If you skip this appointment, you may be missing important screenings that keep you out of the hospital and feeling your best day to day. As the pandemic kept many patients away from annual visits, it is important to get back on track with your health care.
Regular visits with patients allow physicians to provide integrated care, watch out for chronic conditions and perform preventive screenings. According to CDC data, women aged 55 or older are more likely than men to have chronic conditions. Over 80% of women in this age range have a chronic condition, and 21% have three or more chronic conditions. Preventive care, especially if started when you are young, can make all the difference.
In my 35 years of serving as a primary care physician, I have seen the impact that primary care can have on a woman’s overall health. Here are four reasons you should make a primary care appointment today:
1. An annual primary care appointment provides a set time to receive screenings for chronic conditions.
Patients should expect to have tests for prediabetes, hypertension and pulmonary issues, as well as important screenings and vaccinations. Primary care can also provide many of the services women would expect to receive at a gynecologist, like pap smears, contraception counseling and hormone replacement. Many health issues can be managed, or thwarted altogether, with the consistent support of a team focused on preventive care. Monitoring chronic conditions is increasingly important for both personal well-being and overall medical costs. Our country spends $4.1 trillion per year on health care, with 90% tied to patients with chronic and mental health conditions.
2. Developing a relationship with a primary care physician or advanced practice provider when you are healthy can set a baseline of understanding when you run into challenges.
The tests you take annually at a primary care visit are a valuable tool to gauge changes in your health moving forward. If you only make appointments on an irregular basis when you face serious issues, you will miss the benefits of having a consistent record of your health over the years. In my practice, I emphasize the importance of building a relationship with a primary care clinician that is focused on all and only the right care for you. For my younger patients, I have found that it is especially important for them to pair this relationship with care that is easily accessible and convenient.
3. Primary care goes beyond just taking care of your physical health.
A physician who gets to know you over time can be an important sounding board if you have questions about your mental health, family relationships or life stressors, like career or money challenges. My goal when working with patients is not just to meet quality metrics; it is to take care of the whole person. At Village Medical, we believe that taking care of the whole patient is key to their physical health outcomes, so we provide support for patients ranging from telehealth appointments with nutritionists to referrals for social workers.
4. An established relationship with a primary care physician or advanced practice provider can set you up for success when seeking referrals to specialists.
I like to refer to primary care as a “preventive specialty.” But just because you are visiting a primary care physician does not mean you should be canceling your other medical appointments. Primary care should be the center of any patient’s health care journey, but it’s not the only element. Specialty providers have advanced training within their area of expertise and serve a key role alongside primary care. Visits to a specialist can allow for additional diagnostic tests and treatments to support chronic condition management. Primary care can also provide added support. For example, if one of my patients visits a dermatologist for a skin condition, I can help monitor it during the recovery stages.
Health care is a team effort, made up of primary care physicians and advanced practice providers, pharmacists, specialists and caregivers. But they can only play a role if you empower them. I encourage all women to take control of their health and prioritize primary care in their lives.
Dr. Erica Swegler is a family physician at Village Medical, a full-service primary care provider with nine locations in Austin. Village Medical offers the flexibility of same-day appointments at a practice or through its app, while focusing on the relationship between patient and provider.