Primary Care Physicians Hold the Key to Your Health
As many as 25 percent of Americans don’t have a primary care physician (PCP), a recent study in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine reported. If you think it’s because these people are perfectly healthy, think again. Not only do many of them suffer from potentially life-threatening illnesses or symptoms that are precursors to chronic conditions, but they’re also far less apt to have screenings for such things as colorectal cancer or breast cancer — diseases that, if caught early, have high cure rates.
“It’s very important to have a primary care doctor because not only do we do all the preventive medicine to keep you healthy and to help us watch for developing problems, but we treat a multitude of illnesses from the flu and respiratory conditions to headaches, hypertension and diabetes,” says Jose Vazquez, M.D., chief of primary care at Baptist Health Medical Group, part of Baptist Health South Florida.
Dr. Vazquez is an internal medicine specialist. Along with family medicine physicians, pediatricians, ob-gyns and geriatric specialists, these are the generalists typically considered to be primary care doctors — those who will care for you throughout your lifetime, from good health to complex illnesses.
Getting to Know You
“It’s important to me to build a relationship with my patients,” Dr. Vazquez says. “I often treat entire families, from grandparents to parents to their children when they get older. I get to know them not only medically but also personally. I know what they do for a living, whether or not they like to exercise, if they have hobbies.”
That long-term relationship establishes trust and provides doctors with vital family history. “It helps us get an understanding of how much risk a person has for developing a disease,” Dr. Vazquez says. “For example, if I have a family where a grandparent had a heart problem or colon cancer at age 50, we would be discussing screenings and lifestyle modifications with the children and grandchildren at a much younger age so that we can lower their risk.”
Education and prevention are also top priorities for Aldo Ribeiros Jr., M.D., an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “One of the main jobs of every primary care physician is to stop medical issues before they start,” he says. In addition to screenings and counseling patients about health risks associated with obesity and smoking, it’s also advising patients about vaccines for flu, COVID-19 and other largely preventable viruses and diseases.
Managing Your Health Holistically
The problem goes beyond not having a primary care physician, according to a report on NPR. Harvard physicians studied large numbers of patients who had both medical insurance and a PCP and found that nearly half of them hadn’t been to see their PCP in the past year.
When patients rely on urgent care or go straight to a specialist, they likely will have their immediate concern addressed, the doctors say. But the broader health picture will rarely be discussed. A PCP looks holistically at the patient, taking into account all organ systems.
“We are trained to look at how health issues relate to each other, and some of our patients do have multiple problems that coexist and affect one another. I will refer a patient to a specialist for a very complex situation or if they need a procedure of some sort,” Dr. Vazquez says. “We then work together to ensure the patient gets the care they need and that they can return to me for management, confident that I have been in communication with the specialist.”
Help Navigating the Health Care Maze
There’s no doubt that with a primary care physician at the helm, a patient has improved access to care, the experts agree. “The cooperation and collaboration we have throughout Baptist Health with specialists and everyone from nutritionists to social workers to the diagnostic and imaging teams makes the transition seamless for our patients,” Dr. Ribeiros says. “Helping coordinate this care for our patients, making sure they get to the right people at the right time, and then that we, as the primary care provider, have the full understanding of their care, is a significant benefit.”
If, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve delayed regular health screenings or check-ups or feel you have the need to establish a better relationship with a primary care physician, now is the time, the doctors say.
“Having a primary care physician really gives you a much better chance of having a long, healthy life,” Dr. Vazquez says.
Baptist Health Primary Care has convenient locations located throughout Miami-Dade, Monroe and Broward County. To schedule an appointment with one of our primary care physicians, visit us at baptisthealth.net/primarycare or call 786.596.2464.