5 Rea­sons You Should Have a Fam­ily Doc­tor

Your first point of health con­tact

Wellness Update - - Front Page - By Michael Rabovsky, MD

If you have a med­i­cal need — sud­den flu symp­toms, nag­ging back pain, an un­ex­pected rash — who is your first point of con­tact?

A fam­ily physi­cian can be the right an­swer for most healthcare sit­u­a­tions.

Med­i­cal emer­gen­cies are an ex­cep­tion. An emer­gency is a valid rea­son to visit the emer­gency room — but far too many Amer­i­cans use the ER or ur­gent care as their pri­mary source of care. It’s one rea­son among many we spend more as a coun­try on healthcare than any­one else, yet still rank far from the top in health out­comes. Us­ing more pri­mary care physi­cians — in­clud­ing fam­ily doc­tors — can help. Here are just a few of the ben­e­fits for you and your fam­ily.

1. Fam­ily doc­tors fol­low your life cy­cle

I treat tod­dlers. I care for teens and peo­ple in their 20s. I treat mid­dle-aged adults, re­tirees and peo­ple well into their 90s. I of­ten see these same pa­tients for years or even decades.

That’s typ­i­cal of fam­ily prac­ti­tion­ers. Be­cause fam­ily doc­tors treat a wide range of con­di­tions, they can be your pri­mary care physi­cians at any point in your life.

In the long term, that means you can build a last­ing re­la­tion­ship with a fam­ily physi­cian. And build­ing such a re­la­tion­ship means…

2. They know your per­sonal — and fam­ily — history

When doc­tors treat you for years, they get to know your med­i­cal history in­side and out. That helps them make ac­cu­rate di­ag­noses, watch for red flags re­gard­ing med­i­ca­tions and mon­i­tor changes in your health through the years.

But the “fam­ily” in fam­ily doc­tor mat­ters, too. See­ing mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions of a fam­ily can help a doc­tor record an ac­cu­rate, in-depth fam­ily health history. For ex­am­ple, if I know you had can­cer at a young age, and so did your mother, that’s a red flag. I will rec­om­mend ge­netic coun­sel­ing and of­fer a screen­ing plan not only for you but also for other fam­ily mem­bers at risk.

Med­i­cal history is just part of the pic­ture. Some­times it helps to know what’s hap­pen­ing at home, too. When treat­ing a child whose par­ent just lost a job, for in­stance, that in­for­ma­tion comes into play when as­sess­ing stress and anx­i­ety.

3. Fam­ily doc­tors treat more than you think

Yes, fam­ily doc­tors do your yearly check-up. But they also can help you man­age chronic con­di­tions such as heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and arthri­tis. They can treat acute sit­u­a­tions such as si­nus in­fec­tions and in­juries. They can help you through­out a preg­nancy.

They also can per­form mi­nor sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dures, such as freez­ing a wart or drain­ing an ab­scess. These are but a few ex­am­ples, and the list goes on.

4. When you need a spe­cial­ist, they help find the right fit

When you need to see a spe­cial­ist for heart dis­ease, can­cer or any other se­ri­ous con­cern, a fam­ily doc­tor can help find some­one who fits your spe­cific needs — and per­son­al­ity.

Here’s an ex­am­ple: Say I have a pa­tient who needs to see a car­di­ol­o­gist. I know from years of ex­pe­ri­ence this pa­tient prefers con­ser­va­tive treat­ments. That means I’ll search for a car­di­ol­o­gist who takes a con­ser­va­tive-first ap­proach rather than some­one known for ag­gres­sive treat­ment.

5. They can im­prove lives — and save money

There’s am­ple ev­i­dence — both here in Amer­ica and abroad — that us­ing more pri­mary care saves money for a healthcare sys­tem.

For ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to an in­sur­ance study, a 23 per­cent in­crease in pri­mary care spend­ing in Rhode Is­land led to an 18 per­cent re­duc­tion in to­tal healthcare spend­ing.

And data sug­gests that adding one pri­mary care physi­cian (such as a fam­ily doc­tor) for ev­ery 10,000 peo­ple can lower hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions by 5.5 per­cent, emer­gency room vis­its by 11 per­cent and surg­eries by 11 per­cent.

Those num­bers are even more im­pres­sive than cost sav­ings. Fam­ily doc­tors can cer­tainly save the coun­try money, but more im­por­tant, they can of­fer your fam­ily bet­ter health.

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