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by Megan Stewart, MS, BCPA

In this age of WebMD, social media, and unlimited news streams, it is tempting for the average person to consider oneself a medical professional. The sheer volume of information that is available to the healthcare consumer is larger than ever before. Although the content can be varied in its reliability, nonetheless there is a significant amount of information out there. But when you come down with typical symptoms of a winter upper respiratory infection, for example, it is truly hard to know what is of concern and what can be handled with time and rest. Particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this task has become even more confusing in recent years.

So, what’s one to do? Running off to urgent care, or even making an in-person appointment with a provider that isn’t in touch with your health history, sometimes seems like it’s not the best move. But many people face this prospect when sick due to the fact they don’t have a relationship with a primary care doctor or internist. Some women, for example, will say that their OBGYN handles the majority of their care—which in many cases, they do—but a yearly physical is not usually conducted in a gynecological practice. Some will see certain specialists for issues that may arise—orthopedics for that sports injury, cardiology if there is a family history, or gastroenterology for the over-age-50 colonoscopy, to name a few.

However, I’ve noted that the most confident healthcare consumers are ones that have a strong relationship with a primary care doctor. This relationship means that someone is understanding your baseline health, including (but not limited to) blood panels such as cholesterol, vitamin D and thyroid levels, checking blood pressure, monitoring weight, and having a medical professional to talk to with any concerns or issues. And when a sickness progresses beyond the simple symptoms, being able to touch base with a doctor and staff that understands your health and your body can make the difference between a quick recovery and a prolonged problem. The stress of the “guesswork” is taken out when you have a doctor and practice to turn to. In addition, if pain or other concerns persist, a primary care doctor can be the first stop to rule out issues, order testing if needed, and begin to get a problem diagnosed and treated. You may end up at specialist to solve an issue, but starting with your established primary care doctor can help you manage through concerns.

In today’s world, being your own advocate—and being the advocate for your loved ones—can be a needed skill in order to navigate the healthcare system. But having a knowledgeable and reliable primary care doctor to help quarterback and manage your healthcare is an invaluable part of your health—and ultimately leads to better quality of life, at all ages.

So, what are you waiting for? Look through your insurance plan for a list of doctors who take your coverage, talk to your friends or neighbors for personal referrals, and use the Internet to scope out reviews and feedback—and make that appointment for a baseline physical with a local primary care doctor. You’ll find that your health—physically and mentally—will improve, knowing that you have a professional in your corner, no matter what comes your way.

Megan Stewart, MS, BCPA, is the Principal and Founder of Pathway Patient Navigation, based in Atlanta, GA.