If it’s been a while since you visited your primary care physician, this article is for you.

Keep reading to learn why you shouldn’t put off booking that checkup. I will also share some tips to help you overcome any barriers that might stand in the way of your next appointment.

Primary care physicians are usually specialists in family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics. They act as an entry point for a patient’s health care needs, taking responsibility for delivering comprehensive care, screening for disease, and acting as a patient advocate as they coordinate with other medical providers.

Primary health care plays a critical role in lessening the prevalence of disease and the burdens of chronic disease.  Despite being one of the most effective ways to prevent disease with far less cost versus disease treatment, visits to primary care physicians have been declining. The sharpest decline occurring in adults under 40 with an estimated 69% not currently using a primary health care provider. This is particularly alarming given that many life-threatening diseases can be prevented or controlled before they pose a grave risk if detected at this stage of life.  Consider the following statistics:

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  • Adults who have primary care providers save 33% in health care costs versus those who do not have primary care providers.

Overcoming Barriers to Care

We recognize that not everyone has equal access to this foundational care. The American Hospital Association analyzed access to care in vulnerable communities, and found that these factors outline some of the main barriers to accessing proper care:

  • Lack of health insurance
  • High unemployment rates
  • High rates of uninsured
  • Language barriers and cultural differences
  • Low rates of education and/or health literacy
  • Limited economic resources
  • Challenges related to poor living conditions
  • Insufficient number of primary health care providers

Many of these factors are considered social determinants of health and have been worsening in the past decade in many communities and are highly associated with poor and worsening health outcomes.  That being said, these barriers do not completely explain the decline in primary health care.

Interestingly, among adults who report not having a primary health care provider, 67% have health insurance. For those with high access to primary health care, there is still a sharp decline in utilization.

Why don’t these folks use their health insurance for preventive care? Their reluctance to use their benefits are attributed to a change in the perceived need for these services, out-of-pocket costs, and the use of alternative care sources such as acute care clinics. If you have insurance, use it! Check your policy and get a better understanding of what it covers so that you understand what you are paying into and how to make use of it.

For anyone challenged with barriers to care, community and social organizations can help. Hospital-community partnerships can be a vital resource to adequately address barriers to health care.  Technological strides by the COVID-19 pandemic have helped in developing very productive partnerships between health care providers and community organizations. Virtual health services can also improve access for vulnerable and non-vulnerable populations and compensate for physician shortages in challenged geographies. Spending some time to identify the community and social organizations that might help you receive proper preventative care is a worthwhile exercise.

We have the power to change the trajectory of our health.  For instance, lifestyle change can cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 58% in young adults and 71% for those over 60 years. The reality is that many younger adults don’t recognize the value of primary health care, so informing this age group of the invaluable benefits could make a huge difference in the future of their health.

You have already taken the first step in taking the time to get informed and empower yourself with knowledge of the tremendous benefits that primary health care can offer – now is the time to put your awareness into action!

*The U.S. could save an estimated $67 billion per year in health care cost if all individuals used a primary care provider.

This article was written by Dawn McEachern, former Pritikin ICR Region Manager