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It's never too late. This statement rings true in many facets of life. And arguably, there is no more important aspect of your life than your health. So, by that logic, it's never too late to start going to the doctor to ensure a long, healthy life. But if you've never been seen by a physician before, you might not know what to expect.
What Does a Primary Care Physician Do?
Primary care physicians (PCPs) are typically the first medical practitioners contacted by a patient. Considered "general practitioners," primary care doctors' scope of practice and skills are intended to allow for basic diagnoses and treatment of common conditions. An evaluation by a PCP typically includes an interview to assess symptoms and past medical history, as well as a physical examination. Then further medical testing (e.g., x-rays, blood work, etc.) may need to be conducted. If necessary, a referral to a specialist (e.g., orthopedics, cardiology, oncology, etc.) will be made for more complex evaluations, diagnoses, and treatment.
One of the fundamental goals of a PCP's evaluation is to differentially diagnose. A differential diagnosis distinguishes conditions from diseases that may present similar symptoms or characteristics. For instance, one may think that their lower back pain originated from lifting their couch improperly, yet a differential diagnosis may reveal that their pain is actually due to a urinary tract infection, which may require more immediate medical monitoring and assistance.
Preparing for Your First Trip
In order to have a successful first visit, you should bring:
- Your insurance card
- A valid photo ID
- A list of medications you're taking
Also, be prepared to provide information on:
- Your past medical history
- A list of specialists you have seen (if you have)
- Any questions or concerns you may have
When preparing for your first doctor appointment, consider the following checklist from the Blue Care Network.
Gandhi once said that "It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver." Whatever you may be passionate about -- whether it be traveling, your family, or work -- you need your health to fully enjoy it. As you get older, your health needs can become more urgent, and you can be proactive by seeing and developing a relationship with a general physician.
Don't feel embarrassed about being a first-time patient. Many people are fearful or simply don't prefer (or perceive a need) to go the doctor. If you fall in the former category, one method that may help you overcome your fear is to seek out a cognitive behavioral therapist and engage in exposure therapy, which may help acclimate you to doctors and medical environments.
So what does a primary care physician do? A lot! But their main job and intention is to help keep you as healthy as possible. So rather than approaching them with fear, approach them with an open mind and be active in helping them help you. This is your first step on the path to the healthiest life possible.