Do I really need a primary care physician?

Do I really need a primary care physician?

We all lead busy lives. Many of us don’t make the time for visits to the doctor’s office unless we are so ill we feel we have no choice. For patients who are already trying to find a way to fit their annual visit to the gynecologist into their schedule, making an additional trip to a primary care physician can just seem like too much.

However, primary care physicians and gynecologists alike will tell you that maintaining your regular check-ups with both providers is essential to your health and well-being. While gynecologists have long had to fill the role of primary care provider for many patients who don’t otherwise have one, that’s really not what an appointment with one is for. Regular visits to a family doctor or general internist can ensure that all your health maintenance needs are being met, while also providing continuous monitoring and management of any chronic health problems you may have.

At a regular appointment with a primary care physician, they can certainly address your need for a pap smear or mammogram, but that is just the beginning. Other aspects of preventive care such as immunizations, colon cancer screening, bone density scans and various other age and risk-factor-dependent tests can be addressed as well. Knowing what you need and when you need it is part of your primary care physician’s job, so by making annual health maintenance visits with them, you can be sure that they are keeping you up to date.

In addition, if something should come back abnormal during your history, examination or a laboratory evaluation, a primary care physician is best suited to help you manage that issue, or refer you to the appropriate specialist if necessary. Certainly a gynecologist has been trained in the management of conditions like high blood pressure, hypothyroidism and depression, but I think they would agree that long-term care of these issues is best left in the hands of a physician that deals with them on a daily basis, prescribes the requisite medications regularly and has a global picture of how a new diagnosis may affect your overall health and well-being.

For patients who require gynecologic examinations, seeing a provider that you know and trust regularly is essential. Just as important, though, is the sometimes life-long relationship you can form with your primary care physician. Studies have shown that the inclusion of primary care improves all health outcomes, including life expectancy and the way we perceive our own health. In other words, you live longer and feel better!

So, no matter what other appointments you may have, maintaining scheduled visits with a family doctor or general internist can ensure that you are receiving all the care and advice you need to keep you healthy from your head to your toes.

To schedule an appointment with a family doctor at Marshall Family Medicine, call 304-691-1100. For a general internist at Marshall Internal Medicine, call 304-691-1000.


Sydnee McElroy, MD

Dr. McElroy is a board-certified family practice physician with Marshall Family Medicine, a department of Marshall Health, and an assistant professor with the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.