Seriously. Do you have a doctor? A general practitioner, primary care provider, internal medicine doctor, family physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner that you see regularly? For young people, annual physicals and health insurance coverage may seem expensive, or even unnecessary (not to mention a total drag to think about). Your parents can’t drag you to the pediatrician any longer, and the days of dropping in for a quick visit to the on-campus health center are in the past, but you're not off the hook. Yet, the cost of healthcare can be prohibitive for a recent graduate. These factors make it less likely for young adults to proactively pursue care. According to a poll conducted by the American Association of Family Physicians, 66% of Americans aged 18-26 have a usual place of care, and an even smaller percentage reported seeing the same health care provider (as opposed to urgent care, community clinics, or emergency room visits).
Why should you help build the ranks of your doctor-visiting peers? I’m going to hit you with the top two reasons: building a relationship with a doctor who knows your medical history (and can refer to, and coordinate care with, any specialists you may need to see), and receiving preventive care.
Building a strong relationship with one doctor who possesses a broad general knowledge of medicine and is aware of your medical history is important. Visiting that doctor on an annual basis isn’t just beneficial because it provides you with the comfort and pride of knowing you are taking responsibility for your health, but also because that doctor will have a baseline from which to compare any changes, however minor, which can lead to earlier identification of issues that need further attention. Another way to look at this relationship is that your primary care provider (PCP) is the home base of all medical care. If you need a referral to a specialist for an acute illness or chronic condition, that’s the place to start. Any specialists, labs, or nurse educators that you visit can send your records and chart notes back to home base for review and coordination, leaving you free to focus on taking care of yourself instead of chasing paperwork.
This next service that your PCP provides is good for your wallet, well-being, and longevity. Ready? Two words: preventive care. Shifting your vision of wellness to reach beyond disease prevention to health promotion doesn’t just set you up for better physical health, but improved overall quality of life, and it all starts at that annual physical where a basic examination and biometric screenings take place. Preventive care screenings catch irregularities early, which offer the opportunity for improved prognosis. In addition, preventive care visits are also a great time to ask questions and become more educated about your chronic health risk, vaccinations, or any other topic about which you would like more information.
While you cannot rely on a healthcare professional to manage your health for you (we’ll talk self-efficacy/patient advocacy another day), it is vitally important to have a doctor on your team that you trust to have your best interests at heart. Coordination of care is an often understated, yet valuable service your PCP can provide, especially if you have any specific health challenges or live with chronic illness. A good relationship with your physician opens the lines of communication and provides a solid foundation upon which to build lifelong positive health behaviors.
Interested but don’t know how to start the process of finding that point person for your healthcare team? Email Samantha at Samantha@gracemark.org to get information on what to consider when looking to get started with a healthcare provider in your area, or address any other questions you may have.