Do You Need a Primary Care Physician?

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine warns that “primary care in the United States is slowly dying.” They’ve identified this as a big problem in American healthcare, and are recommending that people who don’t have a PCP should be assigned one by their health insurance companies.

A primary care physician, or PCP, is a family medicine doctor, internal medicine doctor, or pediatrician. This is the person or office you call first with your health concerns. Your PCP gives comprehensive care and keeps track of other sources of health care you might need. 

Who doesn’t have a PCP?

Younger people are less likely than older people to have a regular family doctor. As of 2015, only 64% of people in their 30s had a primary care physician. Just 44% of people in their 20s had a PCP.

There are also ethnic differences. A study by Kaiser Family Foundation found this breakdown among men:

  • 23% of whites
  • 31% of Blacks
  • 47% of Hispanics
  • 30% of Asians, native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders
  • 36% of Native Americans or Alaskan natives

The proportions are similar among women. Women are more likely to have a personal doctor than men.

Why do you need a PCP?

While younger Americans may choose retail-style healthcare, studies comparing healthcare with and without PCPs show big differences.

People with a PCP

  • have fewer emergency room visits
  • are less likely to be hospitalized
  • pay less for healthcare overall
  • have better health outcomes with chronic diseases
  • are up to 10% more satisfied with the care they receive

People with a PCP are also more likely to catch health concerns early and focus on their health. They develop relationships with their PCP that give the doctor greater insights into their health and increase awareness of potential health issues. A PCP focuses on wellness and preventive care, along with disease management, to help people stay healthy and have a better quality of life. 

Your internist or family doctor will recommend appropriate health screenings and blood tests for your age or risk factors. It is important to have timely health screenings to find health issues early on when they are treatable. The PCP will ask you questions about your lifestyle and family history to identify risk factors. A PCP will make sure they are on track for recommended immunizations for your age group to prevent disease. 

For children and adolescents, the family doctor or pediatrician will ask questions about their growth and development. A PCP can help identify any issues early on and help your child develop to their best potential.

In fact, large-scale studies comparing counties with more primary care physicians and those with fewer have found that people living in areas where there are plenty of PCPs live longer.

Continuity of care

Tom Bodenheimer, an internist who founded the Center for Excellence in Primary Care at the University of California-San Francisco, puts it this way: “We know that continuity of care is linked to everything good: better preventive care, higher patient satisfaction, better chronic care, and lower costs. It is really fundamental.”

If you don’t currently have a PCP, consider MANA Family Medicine or Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic Internal Medicine.  With multiple convenient locations and a focus on continuity of care at each clinic, there are excellent choices for your primary care provider. Find someone you feel comfortable talking to about your health concerns, see them regularly every few years, and you have made your health a priority.