“Primary care” is a term used for healthcare providers who act as the first line of defense in a patient’s care and wellbeing. Primary care physicians and practitioners (also known as PCPs) are based in office settings and can be a M.D. or D.O., physician’s assistant (PA) or a nurse practitioner (ARNP). They are generally board certified in family medicine, internal medicine or pediatric medicine.
Primary care is an often-used term to represent routine health care, disease prevention, wellness, or health care promotion. Generally speaking, people in good health rarely have the need to visit a doctor’s office or see a specialist. However, by engaging in annual wellness or preventive exams, individuals can reduce the likelihood of developing chronic or catastrophic health conditions. These events often require costly and complex medical treatment, hospital care, ongoing recovery, and may even involve permanent disabilities.
In addition to making healthy choices such as eating well, being physically active, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol, getting regular health screenings can play an important role in maintaining good health. Timely and appropriate screening can detect disease early when treatment is often most effective, or even lifesaving.
Numerous studies have correlated the benefits of maintaining good quality primary health care with favorable health outcomes. Among these include risk reduction of all-cause cancer, heart disease, and stroke, as well as improved life expectancy and self-rated health. Most health insurance plans, including Medicare, provide for annual health prevention or wellness exams at no cost. However, a recent study showed that in the US, only about 50% of all office visits were made for primary health care services.
Tools from organizations such as the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF), American Cancer Society (ACS), and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are often referenced in making recommendations based on individual risk factors and analysis. The USPSTF concisely reviews the evidence for many health promotion activities, and ranks recommendations by the strength of evidence, as reported by reliable studies. For example, the USPSTF recently established new recommendations for abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening through the use of ultrasonography in certain individuals with a history of smoking.
Here is a partial list of additional screening, vaccines, and therapies that may be addressed at your annual wellness visit: