Primary care doctors do a lot of different things. We diagnose illnesses from the trivial, to the catastrophic. We treat maladies both chronic and acute. We confront, and we console.
Of course, these are common roles in medicine, filled by many different providers. One role the primary care physician is more uniquely suited to fill, however, and one of my personal favorites, is that of guide. I’m talking specifically about the art of prevention, of maintaining wellness over the long term, and reducing the risk of diseases that might make it harder to do what you need to do, what you want to do, what you love to do.
Prevention is truly underutilized. We’re a lot better at looking for a problem, and a pill or a procedure to fix it, than we are at fixing what might lead to a problem in the first place. In fairness, human beings are inclined to wait for the crisis to hit before we believe it is really and truly ahead. Changing habits is hard, and eating takeout pizza while watching must-see TV is a lot less work than hitting the gym and making a salad.
On the other hand, some parts of prevention are easy. It’s easy to get a flu shot, or a shingles shot. It’s easy to get a mammogram, or a colonoscopy. It’s easy to get blood drawn, and get checked for diabetes or hepatitis C.
Of course, it’s only easy to do these things if you are aware of the benefits of doing so. This is the value of the annual checkup. From birth, to your last birthday, wellness visits have an important role.
For infants and children, we monitor growth and development. For adults, we screen for diseases, and give advice on reducing risk factors that might lead to disease. Even the oldest of our old can benefit from simple tests for things such as hearing and memory. At every age, we think about safety: Is that infant sleeping on her back? Is that teen wearing his seatbelt? Is that adult drinking and driving? Is that elderly person at risk for falls? Has that patient received their flu shot?
Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance programs cover prevention visits with no copay. This even includes Medicare. Everyone can benefit from these opportunities to focus on staying well, rather than treating problems.
Prevention is an important part of being a primary care doctor, and an important reason to HAVE a primary care doctor. So, take your preventative action today, make a call and set up an appointment, just for that checkup.
Deb Johnston, M.D. is a contributing Prairie Doc author who has practiced family medicine for more than 20 years. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPTV most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.