August 19, 2022
Do you have a primary care doctor? You should. Having a primary care physician can improve your long-term health outcomes. A recent study found that people who have relationships with a primary care doctor have a longer life expectancy. At Treasure Valley Family Medicine, we provide a full range of medical services in Meridian and throughout the entire region, including direct primary care for those folks without traditional health insurance. In this article, we will explore what primary care is, why it is so important, and the tangible benefits of developing a personal relationship with a top primary care physician.
As defined by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), primary care physicians specialize in comprehensive, first contact, and continuing care for persons with any undiagnosed sign, symptom, or health concern (the “undifferentiated” patient); we are not limited by problem origin (biological, behavioral, or social), organ system, or diagnosis. It is distinct from sub-specialty care. Whereas medical specialists help people dealing with specific ailments confined to a single body part or organ system (their title ends in -ologist), a primary care doctor provides whole-person care that every person needs. Since many issues people face may cross over into multiple organ systems at the same time, only doctors that can knowledgeably consider ALL OF YOU provide the long-term treatment you need. When other doctors are needed, primary care doctors also coordinate care to ensure that subspecialists are not operating in silos, creating gaps in care or worse – direct conflicts in care. Primary care is not found in urgent care clinics or emergency departments. Almost never will you see a provider in urgent care or the ER that knows you or has seen you previously. Whereas primary care doctors embrace our role as detectives to uncover difficult diagnoses and teach patients, the mission in the ER is to stabilize and move you along to elsewhere, not to confirm a diagnosis. As soon as a person is confirmed stable (not facing imminent loss of life or limb), then disposition is rapidly made for admission to the hospital or discharge home. Spending the time and energy to find a specific diagnosis or cause for your concern is simply not the priority in the ER, where an ER doctor may see 60 or more brand-new patients in a single shift. We clearly need emergency departments, but any honest ER doctor would tell you that most of their cases do not need emergent level (and very expensive) care.
Primary care is important because it saves lives. Multiple publications and research studies are clear: patients who establish ongoing relationships with primary care physicians have better long-term health outcomes. In fact, people with primary care doctors have an increased life expectancy. The latest data comes from a peer-reviewed study published in JAMA Internal Medicine; researchers found a causal association between the presence of primary care providers and life expectancy. The core finding:
Some patients without a primary care doctor will use their specialty doctor instead, but quality of care is inferior. A comparative study on this topic showed those with a primary care doctor as their personal physician had 33% lower annual adjusted health care expenditures and lower adjusted mortality (hazard ratio = 0.81; 95% CI, 0.66-0.98). Cost savings are also seen with higher levels of primary care.
For decades, population-based research has continued to highlight the value of primary care. A classic evidence review from The MilBank Quarterly cites dozens of articles outlining population health improvements gained from primary care.
Compared to other first world nations across the globe, the United States continues to perform poorly on major health indicators, despite per capita health care expenditures that are much higher than those of any other country. What do these countries have that the USA does not? They have high levels of primary care access.
Primary care is important at both a system-wide level and an individual level. When people develop strong relationships with reliable primary care physicians, it reduces total system health care costs, improves population outcomes, and fosters equity across income groups. For individuals, there are tangible advantages to working with a primary care physician. Notable benefits of primary care include:
At Treasure Valley Family Medicine, our Idaho primary care physicians are devoted to providing top-quality, fully personalized primary care. If you are looking for a primary care doctor in the Treasure Valley, we are here to help. Give us a call now or connect with us directly online to find out more about the services offered by our primary care physicians. From our location in Meridian, we provide Meridian primary care, Boise primary care, and primary care for Nampa and Eagle, Idaho.