To better manage your health, don’t forget about primary care
Millennials — people born between 1981 and 1996 — make up the largest adult generation in the United States, but there’s mounting evidence that they want their health care delivered in different ways than older generations. “The Health of Millennials,” a 2019 study by Blue Cross Blue Shield, found that only 68% of millennials have a primary care provider, compared to 91% of adults in Generation X.
A primary care provider (also known as a PCP) is a medical professional who helps you manage your health. PCPs are trained to provide comprehensive care when you’re sick or injured and to help prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses. They’re typically the first health care provider you turn to for the following services:
• Annual checkups
• Routine screenings
• Treating common illnesses
• Managing long-term or chronic conditions
• Referrals to a medical specialist
Dr. Deborah Anderson, a primary care provider with Total Family Care, said that while some people may visit only when they’re sick, seeing a primary care provider for routine, preventative care is vital for your health.
“Think of it like a car. You can take your car to the mechanic when it’s broken down, or you can make sure to have the routine maintenance done to keep it running in top shape,” she said. “I’m like your mechanic. While I’m happy to see you when you’re sick, I prefer to keep up with the maintenance.”
Many medical conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes, need monitoring and management. Primary care providers are equipped to help patients manage them.
“We’re lucky in the U.S. that we’ve got the capacity to have primary care providers,” Anderson said. “Turn to us for help. We can be your advocate and help you navigate the complexities of the health care system.”
Choosing a provider
Many types of health care providers offer primary care, but not all primary care providers are the same. Different kinds of providers are equipped to see certain types of patients:
• Family medicine providers see patients of all ages, from birth to old age.
• Pediatricians care for patients from birth to age 21.
• Internal medicine providers care for patients who are age 16 or 17 and older.
• OB-GYN providers care for female patients from puberty through menopause and beyond.
Dr. Chelsea Willis, a primary care provider at Family Medicine of Tonganoxie, said that in addition to a provider’s specialty, there are other factors that need to be considered.
“When you’re looking for a primary care provider, a lot of people have a gender preference,” she said. “… Others may prefer to visit an osteopath (DO) if they have musculoskeletal issues and need someone who performs manipulation in addition to their care.”
Personality is also a factor. Do you want a straightforward provider or someone who is more conversational?
Willis said patients should do their research to find a provider who will be a good fit.
“Go to the clinic or the hospital website for more information about a provider you’re considering. Read their biography and learn about their education,” Willis said.
Your friends might also be able to give you a recommendation.
“You can find a provider the same way you find a new hairdresser — ask your friends,” Anderson said. “If they get great care and love their doctor, listen to who is going where. You might not get the hairdresser you thought you wanted, but you can get an even better one.”
What can I expect at my first visit?
You may be apprehensive the first time you meet with a new primary care provider, but there’s no need to be. Anderson said the visit gives you and the provider the opportunity to get to know each other.
“Your visit will be thorough, and I’ll be detailed,” she said. “The more information you provide me, the better. I want to know your history, your medication list and the last time you had anything done. You won’t offend me with too much information. I always want more.”
Willis said you should bring a list of things you’d like to address, but you should also keep in mind that you might not have time for everything in just one visit. Pick your top three priorities so that you’ve got an agenda, and make sure to take notes.
“People only remember about 20% of what we say, so keeping notes is super helpful,” Willis said. “It’s also sometimes helpful to bring a family member so they can hear what’s being shared.”
Health care delivered differently
As the landscape of health care continues to change, the ways in which it’s delivered also change. Blue Cross Blue Shield found that millennials are almost twice as likely as baby boomers to use urgent care and retail clinics.
“People that choose not to have a primary care provider don’t know what they’re missing,” Anderson said. “They go to urgent care or even the emergency department when something is desperately broken. For a lot of people, that’s their primary care.”
On-demand telehealth visits are also an increasingly popular solution not only for millennials, but also for those with busy schedules and commitments that don’t allow them to escape for an hour.
“All of the family medicine providers at LMH Health provide telehealth visits,” Willis said. “It’s a simple solution and provides the convenience of seeing your doctor from the comfort of your home or office.”
Millennials are also more likely to self-refer to a specialist than other generations — but without a primary care provider, they might not pick the right kind of specialist for their problem, Willis said.
“People tend to have a lot of confidence triaging themselves,” Willis said. “They have a problem and see a specialist, but they may not see the right specialist for their issue. You’re risking wasting time, money and not getting the care you need.”
Should I visit the emergency department?
If you have breathing problems, chest pain, broken bones sticking out of your body or stroke symptoms, you should head straight to the emergency department, not to your primary care provider.
“With any kind of acute pain, we should all have that instinct. For any kind of acute pain, if it’s an 8 out of 10, you’re thinking about going to the ED,” Anderson said. “If it’s a 9, you’re on the way and if it’s a 10 you’re already there.”
But if you don’t know whether a problem merits a visit to the emergency department, Willis said you can contact your primary care provider for advice — even if it’s after hours.
“We have an on-call physician available 24/7,” she said. “If you aren’t sure if you should go to urgent care or the ED, it doesn’t hurt to call ahead to see if you’re doing the right thing.”
Anderson agreed. She said nobody will judge patients for making their own health a priority.
“When you have questions, just ask,” she said. “It’s hard-wired within us to provide comprehensive, personalized care for you. We always try to do the right thing for you no matter what.”
— Autumn Bishop is the marketing communications manager at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of the Journal-World’s Health section.