Your health will certainly benefit from having a good doctor that will take care of you throughout your life, but that doctor might be hard to find.
The most important part of staying healthy is to have the best primary care physician you can get.
The published report that showed American seniors that have primary care physicians have higher chances of getting “high value” services that include regular cancer screenings, diagnostic testing, diabetes checkups, and counseling, while those that don’t have access to a primary care physicians are less likely to get access to these services.
While these services might sound rather routine, they can prove to be a life-saver, with accent to cancer screenings.
However, a lot of people have a difficult time finding a primary care physician that will provide them with these services. Authors of the research report have hopes that by pointing out the importance of primary care, medical and government officials will change or add legislation that will improve access to primary care.
The reasons behind having a life-long doctor
The researchers finished their “first-of-its-kind” comparison study by studying the results from 49,286 adults that have primary care physicians and 21,133 adults that don’t. Their goal was to find out how Americans that shared similar health status, demographics, and similar factors would describe their visits to the primary care, as well as some questions regarding the “four C’s” of primary care: first contact, comprehensive health care, and continuous and coordinated care.
The participants that had a primary care physicians had better patient experience and health access when compared to those that didn’t have regular visits to primary care physicians. This was the conclusion of the study, which was published in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine and, according to the researchers, the participants’ experience was stable between 202 and 2014.
“People who have primary care are fundamentally different from those who do not; they tend to be older, better insured, more white, etc.,” explained Dr. Jeffrey Linder, senior study author and chief of general internal medicine and geriatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a Northwestern news report.
“Our advance was to look at healthcare for Americans who were otherwise as similar as possible — but did or did not have primary care,” he added.
According to Linder, the results of the study reaffirmed the importance that access to regular care can do for our health and disease prevention. Linder and his colleagues determined that policy-makers and health systems should increase the investments in the primary care system.
Some other studies exist that point out that even though the United States has the greatest healthcare budget, a very small part of that budget goes into primary care, at least less than specialty care services.
Where are all the primary care physicians?
Even though preventive care is praised to be one of the main goals in the U.S. healthcare system, the way the insurance market and the system are set up is in the way of reaching that goal for many patients that are looking for primary care physicians.
Even though the annual physical check-up is covered with minimal or no co-pay by a lot of health insurance plans, a certain percentage of patients might face high co-pays after their primary care visit. Some other patients might get high deductibles, which means that they will need to pay hundreds of dollars in order to get their insurance to cover for doctor appointments.
“Let me point the finger at ourselves,” said Linder. “We make access (to care) way more challenging than it needs to be. I think the reason why we’re not as accessible is the way we’re paid for health care. You still get paid by and large when you see someone in person,” he added.
Furthermore, in the mind of providers, young medical students are more prone to go into specialty care, rather than primary care. Family medicine has very little to offer in incentives, and family physicians don’t usually practice medicine in rural areas.
The Association of American Medical Colleges published a report that predicts a shortfall of around 14,800 to 49,300 primary care physicians by the end of 2030.
“I think if we want to address the shortage, we need to put more money in to encourage the market,” said Linder. “We reward high cost specialty procedures much more than people who do cognitive medicine,” he added.
While Dr. Sterling Ransone a practicing family physician in Deltaville, Virginia, and member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians, has returned to his rural hometown and decided to continue his practice there, he does point out that many young physicians who just came out of medical school, and are in debt, can’t do the same.
According to Dr. Ransone, the study results are not surprising, in the way that patients who get regular primary care have higher chances of receiving better and more personalized healthcare.
He noted that because of his life-long familiarity with his patients’ health status, he has a clearer health history and a better understanding of their medical needs. However, Dr. Ransone also notes that it’s difficult to gain access to primary care, for both patients and doctors.
“I wish I could spend more time seeing patients, but the way the system is designed, it’s all about efficiency and volume,” Dr. Ransone said.
He elaborates this by stating that for every hour he spends with a patient, he has about two hours of administrative work.
“Unfortunately, in the U.S., the way our system is set up, there are no incentives for folks to see their primary care doctor,” he said. “Getting to know someone over a long term is beneficial for that person, and for a physician is great.”
The problem with primary care
The study results also show that patients that have access to primary care also have higher odds of receiving care that might be supplemental and not have any beneficial effects on their health, like antibiotics.
According to Linder and Ransone, this is another aspect that needs some more work.
“We have further work to do to optimize the amount of high-value care and minimize the amount of low-value care we are delivering to patients,” Linder said.
Finding the right doctor
Dr. Linder and Dr. Ransone provided some guidelines that should make it easier to find a good primary care physician:
- Get recommendations from your friends and people you trust
- If you do find a doctor you like, but is not on the list of an insurance network, make a call to his office and double-check. It’s not uncommon for a physician’s name to be left out in the list
- Find out how easy would it be to get in touch with the doctor during his or her office hours, as well as after hours
- Make a call to the hospital that the doctor of your choice is employed at and make sure it’s a hospital that’s to your liking
- Call the doctor’s office and go for an appointment. Talk to the doctor and, after that, answer this question: Is this doctor the right one for me?
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