It's more than shots and check-ups! Here are 5 things you might be surprised to learn that primary care doctors do for their patients.
1) Mental Health Treatment
More than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental health problem during their lifetime. If we had to depend solely on psychiatrists (specialists in treating mental health), many many patients would not have access to treatment - there simply aren't enough of them! Fortunately, your friendly primary care doctor has received training in diagnosing and treating many common mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. We can help guide you regarding therapy and medication options, and help you get in to see a psychiatrist when necessary.
2) Sick visits!
Many people now think of urgent care when they think of sick visit treatment. In fact, the concept of urgent cares have only been around for the past ~50 years. Prior to the development of urgent cares, you would see your family doctor for all your sick visit needs. The increasing presence of urgent cares can be explained by the difficulty for most people accessing a primary care provider, and if they have one, their primary care doctor is often too busy to add sick patients to their already-packed schedules. There are many, many studies that demonstrate improved outcomes for patients with strong continuity of care with their primary care doctor. While urgent care has its place in the healthcare system, it does benefit patients to see their own doctor that really knows them when they're sick - there's a decreased chance of error and reduced use of unnecessary antibiotics.
3) Management of Diabetes, Asthma, High Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease
Many people think that they need to see an endocrinologist if they have diabetes or a pulmonologist if they have asthma, but the reality is that primary care doctors take care of the vast majority of people with these conditions. Same with heart disease: if you're having a heart attack, you certainly need emergent care and a cardiologist to potentially place a stent. However, high blood pressure and chronic, stable heart disease is managed by primary care doctors through use of various medications and lifestyle recommendations. Complex chronic diseases may require specialist care...if you're not sure where you stand with the management of your chronic medical problems, check in with your primary care provider!
4) Obesity & Weight Management
Obesity and overweight are growing problems in the United States, affecting more than 2/3 of the populations. Obesity Medicine is a relatively new field with relatively few trained health care providers (Dr. Moini is one, and Rachel Peterson is working on her training now!) Therefore, the task has fallen to primary care doctors to help their patients manage this issue. Because of an absence of training on the subject in medical school and residency, there's quite a spectrum of quality obesity medicine care in primary care offices. If weight management is a concern for you, make sure you get recommendations to work with a primary care doctor who's comfortable and experienced in treating obesity.
5) Navigating the Healthcare System
Our healthcare system is confusing and difficult to understand. When you're dealing with a new health problem, your primary care doctor is the best person to help guide you on how to go about getting a diagnosis and treatment plan in place. (Unless it's an emergency, then you'll need an Emergency Room doctor's help!) Say you develop a nagging cough. Off the top of my head, I can think of about 15 things that can cause a cough, some of which are minor and some are very serious. If you're my patient and you schedule a visit, I take a history and do a physical exam. From there, I've probably eliminated half of the potential diagnoses, or maybe I already have a diagnosis. At that point, I can order any labs, imaging, or tests needed to give us more information. After that point, most likely we have a diagnosis and are starting a treatment plan. If I still can't figure it out, it's time for a referral to a specialist.
Now, if my patient calls with a cough, they can see me same or next day in the office. If needed, we can get labs and an x-ray the same day. We could have a diagnosis as early as the first day you're concerned about the cough. If my patient calls to make an appointment with their specialist, it's likely to be weeks or months before they're seen. Translation: weeks and months spent Googling their symptoms and worrying they're dying (because that's what Google always says.)
Primary care doctors can also help you navigate when you need to go to the Emergency Room. Your PCP can help you get the care you need after a hospitalization or big health change.
Primary care doctors have been trained in many different areas, making us great people to be the quarterbacks of the healthcare system. Make sure you have a PCP you can access when you're sick, and that is comfortable treating conditions you're managing.
As your primary care providers, we know you and your family, and are invested in keeping you healthy, making your healthcare journey smooth, and preventing future health problems! We also help control costs and keep the healthcare system running efficiently. Win-win-win!