What happens when you get sick and don’t have a primary care physician? It usually means either ignoring the problem or visiting the emergency room for an illness that doesn’t really require emergency care. Neither is the optimal choice for your health.
Daniel Eichenberger, MD, internist, pediatrician and primary care physician, and Thomas Harris, MD, emergency medicine specialist, provided insights into why it’s so important to have a primary care physician.
One of the main responsibilities of a primary care phyisican is to provide preventative care. “A primary care physician is something like a coach” said Dr. Eichenberger. “We can provide recommendations that will help you protect your health. We can get to know you, your history and your family history. We can provide the screenings you need, and identify and treat many minor problems before they become major ones.”
Continuity of Care
As Dr. Harris explained, “Having a competent primary caare physician provides a continuity of care that health maintenance over a lifetime requires. He or she can treat the whole person, taking into account your history and existing conditions.”
A Central Point of Contact
“A primary care physician coordinates information between healthcare providers,” said Dr. Eichenberger. “When patients have questions, or are getting conflicting reports, they can call us. We can also make sure there is no duplication of care and testing, and that nothing is being left out.”
A Key Resource
A primary care physician should be the first person in the healthcare system that you contact when you have a question or a problem. He or she can provide answers and care, or can recommend a specialist to meet your needs. Your doctor can also help you find other resources, such as support groups and classes.
“Your primary care physician can offer options that can help prevent you from making unnecessary trips to the emergency room,” explained Dr. Harris. “For example, your doctor may be able to answer questions about a conditioin that concerns you, or may call in a perscription or suggest a course of action you can take at home. As ER physicians we are here to take care of true emergencies. For some people, coming to the ER is a safety net and they have little choice. But that should really be the exception rather than the rule. The emergency room cannot replace a good relationship with a primary care physician. However, for timely emergent problems the Emergency Center, not the office, is literally a lifesaver for the critically ill or injured.”