In a high-flying and fast-moving world, with access to an ocean of information on any subject under the sun with just the click of a button, we have seen a rise in several Google doctors, WhatsApp gurus and internet healers.
The information they seek may lead them to a Pandora’s box of medical terminologies and graphic images that will leave them overwhelmed, confused, and most of all anxious to the point that they may end up experiencing new symptoms that were not there in the first place.
The World Wide Web has proven to be the biggest double-edged sword of this era. As much as it has helped us find any of grandma’s recipes, old nostalgic songs or self-help tutorials for practically anything, the yin to the yang of the internet is the dangers of misusing any of these resources especially if it pertains to health and life.
We've had many instances where the patient's life was risked when they tried to diagnose and treat their health problems with knowledge obtained online. We must accept the fact that it is after years of understanding every nook and corner of the human body that a medical professional is able to advice and care for a patient’s health. This cannot be replaced by 5 minutes of online reading.
In addition to this, even if a person decides to approach a healthcare facility for his or her health needs, he/she is unsure as to whom to visit for a particular health problem and invariably ends up seeing the highest level of a super-specialist for a commonly treatable condition.
This is where the role of a ‘good old’ primary care physician is appreciated.
A Primary Care Physician is your First Stop for Medical Care
He/she is trained in diagnosis, evaluation, and management of conditions in general practice and in the implementation of preventative strategies to improve the health standards of the entire community.
Conditions that require specialist consultation or interventional procedures will be promptly referred to the concerned specialists, although the bulk of patients who present to general practice are effectively managed by the primary care physician themselves. This drastically reduces unnecessary investigations, specialist consultations and overall health expenses.
Many of the developed countries such as UK and Germany have capitalized on this fact, and this has helped them succeed in setting up the coveted ‘universal health coverage’.
The preventive care aspect of primary care includes routine health screenings tailor-made for age, gender and other specifications of the individual, immunization and guidance on healthy living.
Another important but often overlooked role of the primary care physician involves maintaining a strict record of patients’ medical details, ensuring smooth follow-up of the patients on subsequent visits and therefore maintaining effective continuity of care.
Lastly, the most important duty of the primary care physician is to ‘treat the patient as a whole’, which is extremely difficult if a patient is caught in a cycle of seeing specialist after specialist; the specialist would certainly and rightly so be more effective in managing the issues pertaining to his/her respective fields. It is the PCP who must tie up all the loose ends, maintain collaboration with the specialists to ensure ‘nothing is missed’ and in return deliver an impeccable health service.
History has taught us the important lesson that it is time to bring the spotlight back on primary care!
Dr. Shirley Andrews G, MBBS, DNB
Family Physician, Department of Family Medicine Kauvery Hospital, Chennai