By Susan McDonald

When I turned 40, it seemed like I had more than a few physical complaints – my right knee was aching more and more, I had a painful lump on the top of my right foot, I’d have a headache by the end of every day, and my stomach was acting up.

I could have called four different specialists, made four different appointments and paid four different copayments. Instead, I called my primary care physician and was able to discuss all of these ailments, get my vital signs checked, and have an EKG done to monitor my heart in one visit.

Primary care is something parents are diligent about for their children, scheduling regular check-ups and vaccinations. But, according to the national Centers for Disease Control, we’re not as good about such routine appointments for ourselves.

“Having a primary care physician is an important part of taking care of your health,” explains Jeffrey Borkan, MD, PhD, chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Memorial Hospital. “Primary care physicians are trained to coordinate patient health care in a central location. We see patients for everything from the common cold to depression, and from allergies to high blood pressure.”

Primary care services are broken down into two categories – internal medicine specialists focus on adult patients while family physicians see patients of all ages, including infants, adolescents, adults and the elderly. Family physicians also see pregnant women, which provides a continuity of care for women who become pregnant, according to Memorial’s Maternal Child Health Director, Nicole Siegert, MD. Women deliver their babies at Women & Infants or Kent hospitals, which are also part of the Care New England Health System.

“The trusting relationship built between a woman and her doctor definitely continues into pregnancy and even beyond when we take care of the baby and mom together, providing ongoing pediatric care,” Dr. Siegert explains.

In addition to any requirements by a health insurer, there are definite reasons every adult should have and annually visit a primary care provider.

  1. You will be treated as a whole person, getting care for a variety of issues both physical and emotional.
  2. Knowing you better, the provider can recommend lifestyle changes and monitor your vital signs to protect your health.
  3. You have support managing chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.
  4. It is good to have someone who knows your entire health history, as well as your family history.
  5. Everyone should have routine screenings to catch minor health issues before they become major ones.
  6. They can provide referrals to medical specialists if needed, but always serve as the central point of contact on your health care team.
  7. You will take fewer trips to the Emergency Room. Research shows that people who have regular primary care visits are hospitalized less and make fewer trips to the ER.

“It may be tempting to skip finding a primary care provider and head to the ER when a bad cold or the flu strikes, but in the end that is more expensive and not as good for your overall health,” Dr. Borkan says. “Plus, having a primary care provider who knows you is invaluable. They know your family history, your lifestyle, your diet and exercise habits. All of those factors are part of your health profile and an ER doctor who has just met you cannot possibly gather all that information quickly.