Chattanooga doctor shares 5 reasons to see a primary care physician

Dr. Alexandra Cooke

Q: My life is chaotic. Urgent care is so convenient. Why do I need a primary care doctor?

A: As adults, we often lose sight of primary care because we're short on time or we put the needs of our families first. We run the kids to the pediatrician for annual check-ups, sports physicals and stomach aches. But when it comes to our health, we delay visits to the doctor. Or worse, we try to self-diagnose and see specialists without calling our primary care doctors.

Here's why it's important to see your primary care physician:

-- They know your complete health history. When you get regular check-ups, your primary care physician can keep track of health markers that may indicate the onset of chronic conditions, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Your primary care physician will also remind you when it's time to get important health screenings, like mammograms and colonoscopies.

-- They can often arrange for faster treatment. If you have a good relationship with your primary care physician, you may be able to get a same-day appointment or even advice over the phone. Depending on your situation, your primary care physician can also expedite tests like X-rays and CT scans -- and help you get to a specialist faster.

-- They provide continuity of care. When your primary care physician knows you are seeing another doctor, he or she can share relevant records so the doctor knows your history. Then, once you've been treated, your primary care physician can update your medical records for ongoing care.

-- You may have fewer trips to the hospital. According to a recent study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, patients treated by the same primary care doctor on a regular basis go the emergency room and are hospitalized less frequently than those who change providers.

-- You may save time and money overall. If you make an appointment to see a specialist without calling your primary care physician, chances are you may complicate your diagnosis and treatment. Without your complete health history, a specialist may recommend costly tests, refer you to another specialist or even back to your primary care physician. It's also important to note that some health plans require you to consult with your primary care physician before seeing a specialist. So, while you may get an appointment with a specialist, you could be billed extra for not following the health plan guidelines.

By building a strong relationship with your primary care doctor, you will establish a successful health partnership for years to come. Schedule a wellness visit today and be sure to bring a list of questions about any potential health concerns or medications.

Dr. Alexandra Cooke is a family medicine specialist with UT Family Practice and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.