Sunday, June 21, 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Have an Established Primary Care Physician (PCP)

10.  Yearly physicals starting in your 30s or 40s can discover an asymptomatic serious medical condition, a cancer (remember the famous Seinfeld episode about a dermatologist saving a life due to skin cancer), or a lab abnormality indicative of a vital organ problem.  Knowledge is half the battle.  

9.  The Emergency Department (aka the ER) and an Urgent Care Clinic (aka a Doc in the Box) are your only other alternatives when you develop a symptom or illness that requires a visit to the doctor.  ER physicians are trained to take care of emergencies NOT your chronic migraine headaches.  

8.  Blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking are some of the biggest causes of heart disease and stroke in the US.  The first three generally do not cause symptoms and the fourth one is rooted in addiction and denial.  Let your PCP screen you for these so that you don’t leave this world too soon.  

7.  Whether you like it or not- starting at certain ages and at pre-specified intervals, all patients need colonoscopies, prostate cancer screening (men), and pap smears/mammograms (women).  All of these cancers can either be prevented or cured if found soon enough.  Those of you who keep putting off your screening clearly need to have a PCP set up a yearly schedule.  

6.  Some insurances require a PCP in order to be referred to a specialist.  Think about needing an urgent referral to a cardiologist for chest pain or to a surgeon for a bad gallbladder.  Having an established PCP allows you to have faith in this referral.  Otherwise you will be playing Russian roulette with the yellow pages. 

5.  Colds, coughs, and sore throats usually just go away without treatment, but they sometimes can turn into something more.  Let your doctor diagnose: a simple urinary tract infection before you are hospitalized with pyelonephritis/sepsis (a full blown kidney infection), strep throat before it turns into rheumatic heart disease, your cough and shortness of breath as a walking pneumonia before you end up on a ventilator for it.

4.  Although the author of this list disagrees, PCPs are a good place to start when you think you need an antibiotic or a pain killer.  

3.  Whether you believe in vaccines or not, you need a pediatrician or family practice physician to guide you through the important details of your child’s health.  The Internet is a very dangerous resource for this topic.  

2.  Think of your PCP as your health coach or teacher.  He/she should give you the best advice about all matters involving your health.  You can depend on him/her to treat you (or refer you) for things like back pain, chest pain, headaches, etc.

1.  Remember that your PCP is going to be your gateway into the medical world.  Think of him/her as a general contractor for your body who has a Rolodex of subcontractors if needed.  If you have a bad PCP, you are more likely to be treated less aggressively/appropriately and referred to poorer quality specialists.  Love your PCP!

David Jones is the owner/blogger at and a private practice cardiologist.  

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