A lot has changed about primary care since I’ve been practicing medicine, but one thing that remains vital is the relationship between patients and doctors. Trust and familiarity can be key in providing the best health outcomes possible. In this post, I’ll dive into the importance of primary care, the changes the industry has seen with the rise of virtual care, how to find the right provider, and much more.
The Importance of Primary Care in your Health Journey
Some ailments lend themselves well to a one-off visit.
For example, you have an infection and need antibiotics, or you’re getting an eczema flare and need a refill of your prescription cream. In cases like these, having access to prompt, affordable, high-quality care—such as a physician on-call for telemedicine or on-site at an urgent care facility— is perfect!
Other ailments can be less straightforward to diagnose or require close follow-up to make sure a treatment is working.
For example, you’ve been having intermittent bloating and diarrhea. You’ve just started on three blood pressure medications, but your blood pressure is still elevated.
Having a primary care provider (PCP) who knows you is key in situations like this. A dedicated PCP isn’t only familiar with your journey to this point —medical and otherwise— they have an understanding of your beliefs, your fears, your health goals, and can give you the time and attention needed. These important components of having a relationship with a PCP can make a big difference.
For instance, a PCP can be the difference in whether you get to the bottom of the underlying cause of your uncomfortable GI symptoms or continue to live in discomfort. They can also provide you with the reassurance you need to fill that new medication when you’re worried about potential side effects. This mental health support can lead to better outcomes.
The Power of Preventive Care
The other reason it’s important to establish a relationship with a PCP is for preventive care. It’s important that someone is looking out for you to make sure you’re receiving all preventive care services.
Preventive care services include:
Blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes screenings
Many cancer screenings including mammograms and colonoscopies
Immunizations such as Shingles and Tetanus vaccines
An urgent care with a physician who doesn't know you or your medical history won't be prepared to — and often doesn't have the time or inclination to — recommend appropriate testing and preventive care for someone your age with your health status.
The Significance —and Impact— of Familiarity and Relationship with a Primary Care Provider
For healthy individuals, the relationship they build with a PCP helps keep them on track with what they should be doing for their care.
But where we see a real difference is when something goes wrong. In my experience, people really seem to appreciate the trusted relationship they’ve built with their PCP during tough times.
When patients encounter a new diagnosis that needs additional care and close monitoring, or a life-changing circumstance that requires additional support—that’s when having someone in your corner can make a true difference.
A PCP who you’ve built a relationship with will advocate that you get the best medication through the prior authorization process to start treatment, send you to top-notch specialists when a consult is needed, hold your hand through teary moments, and be ok with silence as you process a difficult situation.
Going through hard times with a physician you’re not familiar with can make a health challenge that much harder. Although it’s difficult for researchers to measure or put a number on, building a relationship of confidence, trust, and mutual respect has a huge impact.
How the Rise of Virtual Care is Changing Primary Care
For a long time, the model of groups of physicians taking care of a group of patients has existed. Your main physician sees you if they’re available, but a different physician, Nurse Practitioner, or Physician’s Assistant might see you on days when they aren’t available.
Those covering providers have access to all of your records, prior lab work, prior consult notes, and more. So, they’ll have an easier time jumping into addressing your care needs as a result of the shared practice relationship.
Virtual primary care has allowed this type of practice model to work on an even larger scale. You can have one virtual primary care provider who’s seen you before, as well as an entire group of professionals supporting you in case your primary physician is on vacation the week you need to be seen.
In addition to making provider cross-coverage more seamless, some virtual care models have been able to improve access for folks who may not have taken the time to go to a doctor's office.
Transforming In-Home Visits
Another beneficial aspect of virtual care is that it brings the provider into your home. There used to be home visits where a physician would learn a lot about a patient’s social situation and family dynamics by coming on-site. Now, you can bring your PCP into your home using the camera on your phone, tablet, or computer.
Primary care providers can talk about nutrition and actually take a tour of your fridge. They can pick up on chaos and additional stressors, like kids yelling in the background, that might not have been apparent if you had gone to their office instead. This can help shape the conversation to include mental health care and strategies for relaxation and stress management.
While some aspects of a physical exam still need to take place in-person, the ability to get a glimpse into life at home can help build an understanding of what "normal" looks like for that individual, making it easier to identify if something is off.
Finding the Right Primary Care Provider for Your Needs
People value different traits in their doctors. Some people have rare illnesses and look for a primary care physician who’s taken care of a lot of people with that particular condition. Some people really value the skills of listening, educating during the course of treatment, and putting them at ease. These patients tend to look for a physician in a practice setting that gives extra timing flexibility and doesn’t feel as rushed as in-office visits might.
Some people have a specific insurance plan network they need to choose within for the visit to be reimbursed— which is often a strong consideration when selecting a care provider. Proximity is also important, particularly if you’ll be scheduling a lot of follow-up appointments.
And of course there’s the fit of someone who “gets you” whether they are from the same community, they speak your language, or they can understand and appreciate your cultural background. Similar to that, many people end up simply selecting a provider because a trusted friend or an internet reviewer recommended them.
HealthJoy Is Here To Help Along the Primary Care Journey
No matter your preference of in-person or video visits, location, health plan, or type of specialist you're looking for, HealthJoy is here to help. From our Find Care feature to our marketplace of virtual care solutions, HealthJoy connects a wide-variety of organizations and their employees with providers perfect for their specific health needs.
Learn more about how we can transform your organization’s experience with healthcare and provide life-changing results for your employees.