‘Why do I need a primary care provider?’ Strong bonds between patients and their PCP are the key to better health.

April 19, 2024
primary care doctor talking and building a relationship with their patient, which is an important part of your health.
Some people may wonder why they need a primary care doctor. Research shows that people who have close bonds with a primary care provider stay healthier. Photo: UCHealth.

Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider (also sometimes called a PCP) means so much more than merely getting an appointment when you’re not feeling well.

According to medical experts, a sustained and trusting partnership between a patient and a primary care provider results in better health care outcomes for individuals and their communities.

“Good primary care providers support patients with complex conditions, urgent care issues and everything in between. It’s not just sprained ankles and colds,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.

The primary care specialties include family medicine, general internal medicine and pediatrics.

What does a primary care provider do?

According to Harrington, primary care uniquely combines a number of aspects, including disease prevention and screening; wellness and preventive care; chronic disease management; coordination of care among health care providers; and integrated care. Additionally, primary care providers work to develop a sustained health partnership over time with patients. They place on emphasis on community and public health.

How can having a primary care provider improve your health?

“A strong PCP relationship equals stronger health care combined with lower health care costs and better outcomes,” Harrington said.

He stresses establishing a primary care home as soon as you are able; laying the groundwork for a collaborative relationship by talking to your PCP early and often; and sharing health information so they can review your history over time and notice changes or patterns in your health or new arising symptoms.

“Everybody should establish a primary care medical home,” said Harrington. “That’s where you will have those important medical conversations and a personalized patient-centered plan can be created for you. It’s not about a specific organ or part of your body, but about the whole person.”

The importance of having a medical home

When you establish a medical home with a primary care provider, they become your location for:

Females: Do you need a OB-GYN and a PCP? Learn more.
  • Physicals and health screenings on an annual basis, or whatever specific and consistent health maintenance plan your PCP determines is best. “You don’t want to have to find a place just when you have crises,” said Harrington.
  • A repository for your medical records. “This is the place where your care begins,” he said, “where your care exists, where your records are kept with someone who knows you.”
  • Management of chronic diseases and conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, obesity and tobacco use. “About 80% of health outcomes are determined by the time you are 60 … when you are in your 20s and 30s,” said Harrington. “We need to have those conversations with patients so they know how important those lifestyle decisions are, so they can maintain a high quality of life as they age.”
  • An integrated health care model where a patient can also find help such as physical and occupational therapies, mental health services, a pharmacy, and care coordinators and referral managers who often act as patient advocates. “We have evolved beyond just a doctor and a patient,” he said, “and we meet people where they’re at.”
  • And perhaps most importantly, where you will receive wellness care, not just disease care. “We want patients to maintain their health,” said Harrington. “Our goal is to practice disease detection early, before it begins to impact the life of the patient.”

Emphasis on community

After practicing medicine for three decades, with 19 of them in Steamboat, Harrington said it’s rewarding to be able to see patients at different stages of their lives and recall health issues from previous years.

“That type of sustained continuity of care over the long term is an important concept of being a PCP,” he said. “We can be focused on the value of care we provide and not just the volume of care.”

Primary care providers have a broad skill set and are involved in, and live in, the places where they practice, he said.

“We care about community health and how we should tend to that community, whether it’s through equity of care and access to care, food equity, and issues such as wellness, physical activity and recreation opportunities,” said Harrington. “When patients need health care, a primary care home is the one place where they can meet the majority of their needs.”

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot.

About the author

Mary Gay Broderick is a Denver-based freelance writer with more than 25 years experience in journalism, marketing, public relations and communications. She enjoys telling compelling stories about healthcare, especially the dedicated UCHealth professionals and the people whose lives they transform. She enjoys skiing, hiking, biking and traveling, along with baking (mostly) successful desserts for her husband and three daughters.