Why it's important to have a primary care doctor on your team

Amit Patel, MD
Amit Patel, MD

Primary care doctors should be your go-to resource for all basic health care needs, says Amit D. Patel, MD, who practices family medicine at the University of Chicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial. They assess and treat everything from chronic or recurring illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure, to acute sicknesses like the common cold.

“A primary care doctor is like the quarterback of the team,” Patel said. “But for any specialty condition, we’ll pass a referral on to a specialist.”

Patel said you should see your primary care doctor once a year, whether or not you have a chronic illness. This will help your doctor become familiar with your medical history and proactively ensure you’re getting the appropriate care. Your primary care doctor can also be your central resource for advice on healthy living; Patel said he’s recently offered advice to patients who have asked about herbal medicine, fad diets, weightlifting and cardio exercise.

“The most difficult age group to convince to see a primary care doctor is 18 to 35,” he said. “Most people that age don’t deal with chronic conditions and they feel like they’re healthy.”

But a comprehensive exam and discussion of personal and family medical history could lead to additional tests, or the discovery of a problem you never knew you had, such as an irregular heartbeat. Regularly visiting a primary care physician could also prevent costly trips to the emergency room for serious conditions that could have been treated earlier.

“Specialists don’t offer preventative care,” Patel said. A primary care physician can perform exams for breast, prostate and colorectal cancers; provide screenings for cholesterol, diabetes and blood pressure; and make sure you are up-to-date on immunizations.

Your primary care doctor should be someone you trust, and with whom you feel comfortable communicating with about sensitive topics such as sexually transmitted diseases or family struggles, Patel said.

“I tell my patients that if you don’t feel comfortable openly communicating with your primary care physician, you might consider finding a new doctor,” Patel said. He said a good primary care doctor will make eye contact with you and truly listen to your needs and concerns.

Patients should ultimately feel confident that their primary care doctor will provide them appropriate and tailored medical care, taking wellness to the end zone.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Patel or another primary care physician, call 888-824-0200 or request an appointment online.