a primary care provider is like a good financial professionalThink about the wealthiest people you know. They have all the money they need to meet their needs and wants today and to have a future without worry. If this describes you, congratulations! If not, we can enjoy the little daydream together.

But here’s a question for you: Do you think those wealthy folks work with financial professionals to be sure their money is secure and provides the best return possible? Of course they do. They get the pros involved before tax problems come up or the stock market takes a dive. 

Now substitute healthy for wealthy in this scenario. If you are rich with health, do you consult health professionals to make sure you stay that way so your body can help you live a full life now and in the future? Or do you wait until things are out of whack to go to the doctor? If you think of it in these terms, doesn’t it make sense to have a relationship with a primary care provider?

What is Primary Care?

According to the Institute of Medicine

Primary care is the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health care needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community.

As a patient, your primary care provider (PCP) can be a physician who specializes in areas like Family Medicine or Internal Medicine, or a nurse practitioner or physician assistant who works in those areas. Your PCP can care for you when minor health issues arise. They can help you manage chronic health concerns like hypertension, or acute issues like the flu. 

They can also help you get proactive about prevention. A PCP will advise you regarding the appropriate screening tests and immunizations, and work with you to establish and implement health goals that help you stay healthy as you age. They will work with you to make wise choices around nutrition and exercise, improve your sleep habits, and manage stress, and a lot more. 

Does Primary Care Really Work?

The short answer is yes, primary care really works. Increased access to primary care in a community has been associated with decreases in:

  • outpatient visits,
  • inpatient admissions,
  • ER visits, and 
  • surgeries.

That’s right, more primary care providers in a community actually lower the need for medical care. Primary care is also associated with a more even distribution of health in a population. This means that where access to primary care is more limited, the wealthy have better health outcomes. But where access to primary care is increased, this disparity is reduced – the whole population does better. 

How Do I Find a Primary Care Provider?

One of the reasons primary care works is because it is based on a relationship between the patient and the PCP. So think about who you want to have a relationship with. You might be very practical and want a PCP who tells it like it is. Or you may have a family history that causes you worry around health issues, so you need someone who will take the time to talk you through it. A good match of the personality of your PCP with your own can make the difference between a strong physician-patient relationship or a strained one.

If you already have a health concern or an area that really matters to you—say depression or sports medicine—you might look for a PCP with plenty of experience helping patients with that issue. 

You can choose your PCP during a well visit such as an annual exam. If you really click with someone during a visit for an illness like the flu, you might choose them as a PCP. 

Your PCP will be your first stop for annual exams and any time you get sick. They will be the one who refers you to see a specialist if the need arises, and the one who helps you set goals for your health to help you stay healthy long into the future. 

In the end your health may be your greatest investment. When you struggle with significant health problems, it can become a lot more difficult to enjoy any material wealth you may have. And those health problems may end up consuming that wealth themselves. So why not consult the professionals just as you would a multi-million dollar portfolio? Your health is no less valuable.