Even if you are relatively healthy, having a primary care provider, as known as a PCP, is important. Think of your PCP as an advocate for your health. They are someone who knows you as a person as well as your health history.
“A PCP is looking at the whole person, helping them make informed decisions about their health – not necessarily the ‘right’ decision but what makes sense for them,” says Jordan Jackson, MD, a family medicine physician at Bon Secours.
At a primary care appointment, you can expect to receive a brief physical exam. This includes measuring your height, weight and vital signs, including heart rate and blood pressure.
Annual visits also typically include screening tests and immunizations, depending on the individual. If you have any specific health concerns, those will be addressed too. The goal of the appointment is to engage in conversations about your health and determine the best decisions moving forward.
Screenings are key in the prevention of diseases. They help you, as a patient, to be proactive with your health rather than reactive. When you receive care early, you can typically prevent small health issues from becoming more serious conditions.
During a screening you will be asked questions about your allergies, medications, past medical history, prior surgeries, social determinants of health, and family history. Common screenings include ones for cholesterol, depression, colon cancer, and others based on age, gender and medical history.
A primary care physician checks cholesterol levels for adults and talks about the importance of reducing risk factors for potential medical conditions, such as cardiac issues or diabetes. These risk factors include high cholesterol, inactivity/sedentary lifestyles, poor diet, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Mental health screenings also play a large role in the primary care setting. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, and poor mood are very commonly identified and successfully treated by a PCP.
During a visit, personal and social risk factors for depression and other mental health conditions are evaluated and reviewed. For patients who are diagnosed with depression or other mental health conditions, a wide array of support and treatment options are available. They include medication as well as counseling and behavioral therapy.
Health issues and goal setting
At a primary care appointment, patients are encouraged to raise any health concerns that they are experiencing. Common concerns include sleep, nutrition, stress and weight management. Your PCP will work with you to determine a plan for lifestyle changes, treatment options and goal setting.
Dr. Jackson emphasizes the significance of “shared decision making” with patients.
“Because no two patients are the same, health care treatments should be tailored to the patient,” he says.
Primary care appointments also provide an opportunity to receive immunizations that will help protect you from common viral and bacterial infections. One example is the flu vaccine, which it is recommended to get on a yearly basis starting in October of each year.
Other immunizations are based on age, medical history and risk factors for illness. These can include vaccines for shingles, pneumonia, tetanus, and whooping cough.
Finding and keeping a primary care physician
A PCP should encourage patients to manage their lives to maximize their health and well-being. The following are things to consider when finding a PCP:
- Accessibility: Is your PCP in a convenient location and could you quickly contact them if you have a concern?
- Good overall fit – Are you comfortable discussing your health with your PCP?
- Experience/expertise – If you have a chronic condition, is your PCP knowledgeable about the condition?
“Think of the relationship of the patient and provider as a partnership, where you will address concerns and answer questions,” says Dr. Jackson. “As the patient, you should feel that you are being heard and the provider should empower you to be in charge of your own health.”
The most essential thing during a primary care appointment is for patients to understand the diagnoses and recommended plan of care. They also need to feel comfortable communicating any questions or concerns with their provider.
It’s never too late to start seeing a primary care physician and managing your health. Find a Bon Secours provider near you and schedule an appointment today.