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Why you need a primary care doctor

Even if you’ve always felt healthy, it’s still wise to have a primary care physician. These doctors are key for both treating illness and managing long-term care. 

Establishing a relationship with a primary care doctor can benefit you for years to come, says Piedmont family medicine physician Bailee Blackburn, M.D.

“Having a primary care doctor allows you to stay up to date on all of your routine screenings,” she explains, “as well as have someone who knows your health history and can better treat new problems that come up.”

Why can’t I always use an emergency room or urgent care?

Urgent care clinics and emergency departments are useful for after-hours and/or severe medical issues. But they are not a catch-all solution to every medical problem.

EDs and urgent care offices aren’t designed to manage your long-term health, Dr. Blackburn explains. Visiting these locations unnecessarily can delay other patients’ care, and you can save time and money by seeing a primary care doctor instead. 

“When you have a relationship established with your doctor, you can catch potential long-term problems early,” Dr. Blackburn says.

What’s more, she says, you’ll get better continuity of care from your own doctor. That means all your medical information will be in one place, so important parts of your health history won’t fall into the cracks. 

“It also allows you to build a relationship with your doctor. As they see you over time, they can better tell when even subtle things change in your health,” Dr. Blackburn says. 

Why is preventive care so important? 

Preventive care will be a core part of your relationship with a primary care physician. Even if you’ve never had serious health problems, internal and family medicine practitioners will monitor for changes and help plan for your long-term wellness.  

“Everything from vaccines to mammograms to checking your weight to monitoring your cholesterol is all designed to help prevent serious,” Dr. Blackburn says. “That’s why visits like annual physicals are important: because they let us intervene early before lifelong conditions develop.”

Should I pick an internal or family physician?

Both family and internal medicine doctors receive the same amount of training, Dr. Blackburn says. But family medicine doctors treat patients of all ages, including infants, children and teenagers. Internal medicine doctors, on the other hand, treat adults only. 

“Picking either type of provider for your primary care is totally fine, as long as you feel they are listening to you and are someone you can trust with your health concerns,” she says. 

What to look for in a primary care doctor 

Different doctors fit different people. While there’s no single list of qualities everyone should seek in their physician, it’s important to find someone who understands your own needs and makes you feel comfortable. 

“I think it is so important that you have a good treatment alliance with your doctor, meaning that you feel heard, respected, and included in the decisions made about your health,” Dr. Blackburn says. “If you feel pushed aside or rushed through, it will be difficult for you to establish the trust in your provider that is so important for your best health.”

Dr. Blackburn herself entered primary care after working as a medical assistant at a family practice office. Creating long-lasting relationships with the people she sees is an important part of her work.

“Going through medical school just confirmed how important it was to me to build relationships with my patients over time, to be able to treat a wide variety of medical problems, and to serve as someone to help coordinate care with specialists,” she says.

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