Q&A with Dr. Van Dunn:

Choosing a primary care physician (PCP)—and scheduling regular visits—is one of the best things you can do to protect your health. As reported in the journal Health Affairs, researchers found that patients who have a PCP can better manage chronic diseases, have lower overall healthcare costs and report greater satisfaction with their care. We asked our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Van H. Dunn, to share his views on why it’s important to have a PCP.

Q: Why not just see a doctor at an urgent care center?
A: We encourage you to visit an urgent care center or retail clinic instead of an emergency room when your doctor is unavailable, but it is not a substitute for regular medical care. The providers there will treat you for whatever issue you are currently experiencing, but by choosing a PCP, you’ll receive treatment from someone who knows you, such as whether you have a family history of heart disease or if you smoke or exercise. The more your PCP knows about you, the easier it is for him or her to spot warning signs that an urgent care provider might miss, and to better treat you when you’re sick and help you make healthy lifestyle changes.

Q: What’s the benefit of having a PCP?
A: Putting the focus on prevention is important, so finding a PCP who will help you stay ahead of any medical issues is critical to maintaining good health. A study in Health Affairs reported that patients who have a PCP reported higher levels of satisfaction with their care than patients who didn’t have one.

Q: So having a PCP can actually improve your health?
A: Yes. Your PCP can provide one-stop preventive care, through screenings for conditions such as diabetes and cancer, to help you avoid health issues down the road. In fact, according to a study in the International Journal of Health Services, patients who live in states with a larger number of PCPs display better health outcomes and experience fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Sources: Dr. Van H. Dunn; National Institutes of Health; Health Affairs; International Journal of Health Services