All of your symptoms indicate you have a sinus infection. Maybe you’ve researched symptoms online or used a symptom-checker app, like Buoy Health, to help you self-diagnose. Now, you have options. Is your next step a walk-in or urgent care clinic? A virtual visit where you video chat with a provider? A call to your doctor’s office?
Technology is changing how we receive health care, particularly for younger generations. A 2017 survey of more than 3,000 people found millennials prefer walk-in clinics or telemedicine (using technology to communicate with a provider) and are more than twice as likely to choose those options for care. Another nationwide survey found 61 percent of millennials visited a primary care physician, compared with 80 percent of baby boomers and 85 percent of seniors. Health care decisions are increasingly about convenience, but if you’re already connected to a particular health system, you’ll have an advantage.
“Primary care providers are no longer the ‘gatekeepers’ to the health system,” said Doug Marx, DO, a family medicine physician with the Froedtert & MCW health network. “Health care is changing, and we can access care in many different ways, increasingly virtually. Your primary care provider is your personal connection to a whole network of specialists and can help you navigate the health system.”
1. Being connected is convenient
Getting established with a primary care provider ensures all of your records are in one place and are instantly accessible throughout the health system. You’ll save time because your provider knows you and your health history. He or she knows all about the medications and supplements you’re taking and is aware of possible interactions with a new prescription.
“It’s all about convenience and rapport,” Dr. Marx said. “Patients should trust their provider and vice versa. Primary care providers efficiently move through whatever problems or concerns patients may have. In many cases, we can minimize testing because we stay connected and see how your condition progresses. This can be a very different experience than what someone who goes into an emergency department, urgent care or walk-in clinic gets.”
2. On the fast-track
When you need to see a specialist, your primary care provider can help coordinate that care. When you’re established in a health system, your primary care provider can fast-track you through the system to help you get an appointment sooner. In some cases, the primary care team may be able to save the patient a visit to a specialist, through what is called an electronic consultation, or e-consult. The primary care provider connects with the specialist for the patient and gets the specialist up to speed on the patient’s situation. The specialist makes a recommendation for care, which the primary care team communicates to the patient.
“You want to be established with a primary care provider so you get that ease of access to the larger health care system, including the advantage of academic medicine if your provider is with the Froedtert & MCW health network,” Dr. Marx said. “This way, when you need us and you’re sick, we can help you get the care you need easily and quickly.”
3. Keeping you healthy
A primary care provider’s job is about more than helping you get better when you’re sick, preventive care is just as important. Annual wellness visits and routine screenings can detect risk factors for chronic diseases or conditions, like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. The screenings are used to find or manage diseases and conditions such as cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. Your primary care provider will also help develop a prevention or treatment plan.
“I often tell my patients, ‘you’re healthy and we want to keep you that way,’” Dr. Marx said. “Regular health checkups help you pick up and detect illnesses and conditions that are common and treatable and help you head them off.”