Why You Should Always See a Family Doctor First
posted by Abe Tomco, MD | July 14, 2016
Your first reaction when injured or ill may be to go to the emergency room. While a trip to the emergency room may be a good idea if you are in danger of losing your life or a limb, it may be smarter for you to see your family doctor first.
There are three basic levels of care: primary care, urgent care and emergency care. Primary care, like that provided by your family doctor, helps you maintain your healthcare goals. Emergency care is for life- and limb-threatening emergencies, such as chest pain, seizure, stroke, head injury with loss of consciousness and falls from heights greater than five feet. Urgent care fills in the gap between primary care and emergency care, such as broken bones, sprains, allergies, asthma, cuts and urinary tract infections.
Your family doctor treats chronic problems lasting three months or longer, such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma. Your primary physician can also treat some severe acute conditions, such as an acute bronchitis, back problems, joint pain and upper respiratory infections. In fact, most visits to a family physician are for acute problems rather than chronic ones.
Emergency room doctors admit fewer than 12 percent of the patients they see to the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This low proportion of hospital admissions suggests that a large number of patients seen in the emergency department could have been treated in a doctor’s office.
Nobody knows you like your family physician. If you have been with your doctor a while, your physician probably has years worth of lab tests, x-rays, office visit notes and more in your file.
Your family doctor provides continuity of care, which means your physician already knows your medical history, medications and healthcare goals. Unlike an emergency department or urgent care physician who treats only the problem you present, your primary care provider understands how your new illness or injury affects your overall health. Because of this familiarity, your family practitioner can prescribe a new course of treatment that fits in well with your other healthcare goals.
Continuity of care can also improve the likelihood that you will receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Your doctor might know that your blood pressure always runs high when you are upset, for example, and would therefore not be as concerned as a physician seeing you for the first time.
Your family physician also has the advantage of tracking your progress over time, which allows your doctor to adjust your treatment plan. Your doctor can monitor your infection, for example, and prescribe a different antibiotic if your infection is not responding to treatment.
Cost is an important reason to see your family doctor first. Going to your primary care physician is much less expensive than visiting an urgent care clinic or emergency room department. Most insurance companies cover visits to your family doctor so, depending on your policy, your visit to the doctor may be free. The average price of a new uninsured patient appointment is about $104, according to Debt.org. Consumer Reports says the average price of an urgent care visit is around $120 while a visit to the emergency department costs an average of $400.
Seeing your family physician instead of going to the emergency department can help improve treatment time for others, in that the ER doctor can focus on treating only severely ill or wounded patients. Going to your private physician can also save you money, ensure an accurate diagnosis and improve the outcome of your injury or illness.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.