Illustration - a doctor cares for a family

Primary care is generally considered the basic level of health care that a person should receive – a day-to-day medical sounding board that can be relied on to treat a broad spectrum of everyday aches and pains and diagnose your sore throats and flus. But primary care physicians can do much more than just patch you up and send you on your way. Today, technology and a variety of primary care options make it easier than ever to keep tabs on your body and health plan, with the opportunity to be referred for specialized medical care if or when the need arises. In short, the regular guidance of your family physician can often lead to maintained or improved health, managed or lesser chance of chronic conditions and ultimately a longer life.

Primary care has, debatably, five segments: family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, geriatric care and OB-GYN. True to the name, family medicine physicians work both with children and adults and usually provide outpatient care such as physicals and health screenings, diagnose and treat a wide variety of conditions and offer preventive care.

Pediatrics covers the realm of vaccinations, physicals, preventive medicine, common sickness, injury and more, specifically for children from birth through adolescence. Internists, contrastingly, focus on adults with conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity and also offer screenings and preventive care.

Increasingly associated with primary care, geriatricians work with patients over 60 years of age and are trained in common problem-areas for seniors, such as injuries sustained from falls and memory loss. OB-GYNs are another medical provider that many consider to be primary care physicians due to their role in female reproductive health, family planning, and labor and delivery.

Today, lives are busy and insurance coverage can limit options, but opportunities to take advantage of primary care in spite of the obstacles are growing. In addition to the traditional forms of primary care, options like urgent care and concierge or direct primary care offer another way for people to stay healthy.

Urgent care and retail clinics welcome walk-in patients who have a variety of different ailments or issues that would usually be seen by a primary care provider, but the open appointments and, often, more convenient hours are tempting for those who don’t want to wait a few days for a scheduled appointment. A recent survey by PNC Healthcare concluded that millennials are choosing urgent care and retail clinics more than any other generation.

Concierge medicine – and similarly direct primary care – is also on the rise, especially in middle- and upper-middle-class suburban and metropolitan areas, according to Concierge Medicine Today.

Several years ago, Dr. David Albenberg was frustrated with health insurance requirements that obliged him to see more patients, resulting in longer wait times, a lack of availability for short-notice appointments and less time with his patients. He soon changed his practice to Access Healthcare, a concierge-model primary care practice which requires a per-month membership but offers unparalleled access to medical professionals and a limited number of patients.

“Most of our care is delivered via phone or email. We do some skype sessions – which is a lot of fun – so there are other ways that we communicate and interface with patients,” Dr. Albenberg smiled. “But there are times when they need to come in for stitches, fluids, shots – whatever it is – so we’re right here for that.”

Reminiscent of the way doctors practiced in generations past, he makes himself available for house calls and after-hours visits and lives above his downtown Charleston office.

Though it’s important to verify with your doctor what services are provided and which claims – if any – are filed with insurance, most concierge and direct primary care groups offer similar health services as a standard primary care practice.

“We are board-certified doctors and nurse practitioners in primary care. We take care of 80 to 90 percent of medical problems that present to our clinics. We manage diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, thyroid issues, anxiety and depression, as well as treat cough, colds, sore throats, sprains and strains. We also stitch up lacerations and perform minor skin procedures,” explained Dr. Jerome Aya-Ay, co-founder and CEO of Palmetto Proactive Healthcare, a direct primary care provider with locations in Spartanburg, Greenville and Columbia. Like standard primary care providers, if the medical problem is beyond his scope of practice, Dr. Aya-Ay refers the patient to an appropriate specialist.

“Our direct primary care model reunites the patient and doctor in a proactive relationship. We don’t have computers in the room. We would rather listen to and talk with our patients instead of tap the computer keyboard. We schedule more time with patients so that we are able to address all patient concerns if needed,” he continued.

Whichever way you choose to receive primary care, it is important to find a provider who is right for you and who will ultimately help guide you to a healthier, happier lifestyle.

By Anne Shuler Toole

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