We're good about bringing our kids to their regular well visits at the pediatrician’s and pretty reliable when it comes to chauffeuring elderly relatives for their doctor’s appointments.
Why then are we so quick to put off our own primary care visits? Why does it often take a major illness or health scare to get our attention?
Primary care is something we all must a priority in our own lives. There is a shift taking place in the American health care industry in which the focus is moving from reactionary care for disease and acute ailments to a more preventative approach designed to keep us healthier overall.
It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea. The World Health Organization launched the concept of primary health care back in the 1970s as a key way to keep societies all over the globe healthy and functioning. Even so, many adults still don’t visit the doctor or an emergency room until an urgent problem arises. If they had already been established with a primary care physician, many urgent issues could be prevented.
“Primary care should be the first contact individuals have with the health care system and the first step in taking better care of their physical and mental health,” explains Laura M. Ofstead, MD, of the Center for Primary Care at Women & Infants Hospital. “The primary care provider is a cornerstone resource for most patients, for both those who are generally healthy as well as those who have complex medical conditions.”
Primary care providers also:
- Provide continuous and comprehensive health care
- Are available for office visits on a daily basis for urgent problems
- Treat common diseases and injuries
- Track and administer necessary immunizations
- Identify and help control chronic health problems
- Discuss nutrition and exercise
- Provide essential health education
- Coordinate any necessary care with specialists, including mental health providers, and hospitals
- Guide patients to any needed social welfare and public health services
“Primary care providers possess a breadth of knowledge in health care because we must be able to identify and treat so many different symptoms and conditions,” Dr. Ofstead adds.
Screenings are helpful tools for primary care physicians working to keep their patients healthy. The federal government has established guidelines for both men and women to be screened for infectious diseases, cancer, vision problems, diabetes, and heart problems. Primary care providers schedule and perform screenings, which are invaluable in detecting problems early.
“Some diseases, like colorectal cancer, have few symptoms early on. If a person does not have regular screenings, by the time we identify a problem, it can be too late for effective treatment,” explains Christy Dibble, DO, director of the Center for Women’s Gastrointestinal Health at Women & Infants Hospital. “Following the recommended schedule for colonoscopies, for example, is key to early detection and the best possible outcomes.”
While a primary care provider refers patients to specialists like Dr. Dibble for advanced screenings and treatment, patients truly benefit when there is a collaborative approach to care and when all involved, including the patient and family, are kept informed about test results and any recommended treatment.
“We provide continuity for our patients,” Dr. Ofstead says. “People like to go to the same familiar person for routine check-ups and when a new health problem presents. We also work closely with specialists who treat our patients for more advanced issues to maintain the continuity of care.”
Care New England offers a variety of primary care services for children and adults. Choose a doctor here or call the physician referral line at Kent Hospital at (401) 737-9950 or at Women & Infants Hospital at 1-800-921-9299.