Per capita, the average American spends around $9,400 on health care every single year — and that number is only going to rise with inflation.
American prescription drugs and pharmaceuticals are some of the most expensive in the world. In addition to expensive drugs, our doctors and nurses get competitive salaries. Although this allows them to give excellent care, it means that their services add more to our yearly health care spending. Administrative costs are also extremely high. On average, administrative costs account for about eight percent of total health care expenditures within the USA. The average in similarly developed countries is closer to two percent.
With all of these expenses serving as a barrier to entry for many, it can be hard to convince people of the necessity of having a primary care physician, rather than just going to urgent care or seeking the advice of a specialist. Many young adults lose their primary care doctor at 18 and either never go back or experience a potentially dangerous gap in care before they can find another one.
Here are some of the many reasons why everyone needs a primary care doctor.
Someone to see the big picture
One of the most important reasons why everyone needs a primary care doctor is because we need someone who can see the big picture and knows our health and history. Seeing an urgent care physician whenever a problem arises might be your go-to strategy, but only your primary care doctor is set up to be able to keep track of your notes and maintain a long-term view of your health.
If you’re not a doctor, you don’t have the expertise to make connections between different health issues. For example, you may visit one urgent care center for a racing heart and increased blood pressure, then visit another the next time you have constipation and tingling in your extremities. All of these ailments are symptoms of hypothyroidism, a potentially serious condition that requires medication and regular care. If you don’t have a primary care doctor making connections between all these symptoms, your health could continue to suffer.
Even visibly healthy adults need regular checkups
Many people who feel healthy believe that they don’t require a primary care doctor because they’re not sick. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is neglecting your health until there’s a problem.
The standard yearly tests that primary care doctors run may feel unnecessary, but they’re one of the best ways for our doctor to make sure that we’re healthy. There are some conditions that don’t feature visible symptoms until much later but can be easily caught with a physical exam, blood, or urine test. So, don’t wait until it’s too late to seek treatment.
Plus, yearly physicals help to establish a rapport between us and our doctor, which can only benefit us long-term. The more our doctors know about us, the better care they can provide.
Your primary care doctor is your advocate in a complex system
Another reason why it’s beneficial to have a primary care doctor is so you always have an advocate.
In the event that you become ill and need to see several different specialists, your doctor is the best person to help you navigate this complex system and can help explain the often-conflicting advice given by specialists. When you see a specialist, their advice and findings often use dense, complex medical terms. Your primary care doctor should be able to explain this medical jargon in simpler terms and help you apply the specialist’s advice.
They can also order treatments to be expedited if they feel it’s necessary and will help coordinate between different specialists, so you aren’t forced to undergo the same test multiple times or pay for unnecessary treatments.
They can refer you to a specialist
Some health care insurance allows patients to go directly to a specialist without consulting a primary care doctor first. While it may seem more cost-effective and streamlined to simply go to the expert first, the truth is that most patients aren’t doctors. What may seem like an obvious fit for one specialist is often not the case.
If you have a primary care doctor, you can take your concerns to them, tell them about all of your various symptoms, and trust that their expertise will guide you towards the correct specialist. In the long run, this expertise will save you both time and money because you’ll never have to pay to see a specialist that you don’t need.
They’ll keep your vaccines up to date
When we’re young, it seems like every six months there’s a new, necessary vaccine that we need. While it’s true that the majority of our vaccines were administered before the age of 18, the truth is that there are at least seven vaccines required after the age of 19 and potentially more depending on your lifestyle, where you live, and your overall health.
Only your primary care doctor has enough information about your health to administer the necessary vaccines on the correct schedule. These vaccines will help protect you from conditions like Hepatitis A, HPV, measles, and the flu.
It’s easier to get in to see your primary care doctor than a specialist
In the U.S. today, the average wait time to see a specialist in a major city is 24 days. That’s an astounding 30 percent since 2014.
If you’re looking to see a doctor quickly, your primary care doctor is your best bet. Sure, you can visit an urgent care center and wait for hours among other sick people. But it’s a much better idea to wait a few days to see your primary care doctor if you’re in need of reassurance or want to ask a few questions.
You get continuity of care
If you and your family are all patients of the same primary care doctor, not only do you build a rapport, but your doctor also gets to know your family’s medical history in a hands-on way. This will allow them to spot problems that run in the family, leading to a much higher standard of care.
It can be hard to determine if a problem or condition runs in the family if everyone has a different doctor. Many families prefer not to discuss medical problems among themselves, which can lead to several people suffering from the same illness without realizing it.
You’ll have lower health care costs overall
Having regular check-ups may seem like a costly luxury, but regular visits with your primary care doctor have actually been shown to lower health care costs long-term.
Having one doctor who monitors every aspect of your health means that it’s much more likely that they’ll catch issues before they spiral into larger problems. Research has shown that more primary care doctors within a region mean that people living there are less likely to seek treatment in a hospital or specialized facility.
As you build a rapport with your primary care doctor, you’ll soon see how regular visits to monitor your health on an ongoing basis are much more beneficial than simply treating symptoms as they arise.