When you’re in your 20s, there are a lot of things to figure out: where you’ll live, what kind of career you’ll pursue, and how to navigate new and evolving relationships with your friends and family. It’s all part of becoming an adult.
Something that often slips through the cracks is transitioning from a pediatrician or an on-campus doctor to a primary care physician (PCP) — and then establishing a schedule of routine checkups. In the United States, this can be a complex transition that involves both negotiating insurance (after moving from a parent’s insurance plan to an employer-provided plan, for instance) and finding a new doctor that you like.
But PCPs play a crucial role in allowing you to take control of your health.
Often called a GP (general practitioner), a PCP is the first doctor patients see for most non-emergency health problems. (But a PCP need not be a doctor; in some cases, they might be a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner). For this reason, PCPs must have a baseline of knowledge of many different specialties, including:
• Internal medicine
• Obstetrics and gynecology
• Behavioral health
Through routine checkups, they help prevent, diagnose, and treat many common illnesses and injuries. (Learn what happens at a routine checkup — read “What Is an Annual Physical?”)
Many young people put off choosing a primary care physician because they believe they don’t need one. After all, you’re young and healthy — why see a doctor?
The truth is, many medical conditions do not have visible symptoms but could still affect your life. Research has shown that adults with a PCP have 19 percent lower odds of premature death than individuals who do not have a PCP.
In addition, it has been estimated that every $1 spent on primary care saves $13 in overall healthcare spending — this is because it’s much easier and less expensive to treat conditions before they require emergency or specialist intervention.
In addition to spotting asymptomatic conditions that could lower your life expectancy, PCPs can help you deal with other conditions that affect your overall quality of life before they become major issues. For example, PCPs are often the first to spot signs of depression, diabetes, thyroid issues, and other problems that may develop over time.
Once a condition is diagnosed, a PCP can step in to help manage the course of treatment; PCPs are adept at tracking multiple medications and other interventions so there are no negative interactions. If there’s a need for ongoing treatment, they also help patients navigate the complexities of the healthcare system, and provide referrals to qualified specialists.
When you know what’s going on inside your body, it’s much easier to take steps to improve your health. Your PCP can order lab tests of your blood and urine, and the results can tell you if you’re at risk for conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer, which should be treated immediately.
The more information you have, the easier it is to make better, more-informed choices for your long-term health.
If you’re under the age of 50 and in good health, you can probably visit your PCP every three years. However, many insurance companies offer one free or reduced-cost primary care visit every year, to help their customers stay on top of their health.
If you take medication for any reason or have a health condition that needs to be monitored, ask your PCP how often they’d like to see you. Depending on your risk factors, they can help you by designing a plan that works with your schedule, needs, and insurance capacity.
At Carbon Health, we’re passionate about making high-quality care available to everyone, at any age. Our “virtual first” care model makes video visits a practical, integrated, convenient part of your healthcare plan. Download the Carbon Health app, or visit our website to learn more. (And if you can’t access insurance, you may still be able to access preventive screenings and vaccinations at free or sliding-scale clinics. Check out FreeClinics.com.)