In your 20s? Why you need a health strategy
A lot of younger people think preventive care and building a healthy strategy isn’t needed when you’re young and healthy. In fact, the number of people in their 20s who have a primary care doctor has dropped significantly. A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that among people between the ages of 18 and 29, 45% do not have a primary care physician or provider (PCP), compared to 28% of people between 30 and 49 who have no PCP. Many of the people in this age group rely on urgent care and retail clinics when they need medical care and usually only seek care when they’re sick or injured.
But not having a relationship with a primary care provider can leave big gaps in your care that increase your risk for health problems in the near term and the future.
What does a primary care provider do?
A primary care provider:
- Gathers your family and personal medical history, which forms the foundation of a personalized health strategy to manage health risks. For example, if your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age or has the BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation, your provider may recommend genetic testing or starting breast screening at an earlier age. If someone in your immediate family had a heart attack at a younger age, your provider may recommend you start screening for heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar on a more frequent basis.
- Provides basic preventive care, screenings, and immunizations. A check-up every one to three years, or more frequent appointments if you’re living with a health issue like type 2 diabetes, helps you track, monitor, and manage your health. Your provider will check your blood pressure, cholesterol if needed, blood sugar, and weight. Your appointment may also include screening for sexually transmitted infections, testicular cancer, skin cancer, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and alcohol and substance use. Regular check-ups can also lead to an earlier diagnosis of problems like high blood pressure and pre-diabetes so you can start making lifestyle changes or taking medications to manage these conditions before they increase your risk of more serious health problems like heart attack, stroke, and damage caused by high blood sugar. A primary care provider also helps you stay up-to-date on immunizations like your flu shot, HPV vaccine, and COVID boosters as needed.
- Acts your medical quarterback. Your primary care provider is your medical home or point person for care and can help you lower the risk of fragmented care and medical errors by consolidating your medical records from other providers like specialists, urgent and retail care providers, labs and imaging providers, and hospitals. Having one person who is familiar with your complete health and care history can lower the risk of missed follow-up care, medication interactions, misdiagnosis, and unnecessary duplicate tests or services. When you use different urgent care centers and retail clinics, the providers may not have your complete medical record. A health advisor can also play a role in making sure you have an up-to-date, comprehensive electronic medical record that can be shared with any healthcare provider you see.
- Helps you build a healthy lifestyle plan. Your PCP can help you access the resources to make important lifestyle changes like eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. All these choices can help lower your risk of a wide range of health problems, from diabetes and heart disease to some types of cancer.
- Refers you to specialists. If you need care from a specialist like a dermatologist, orthopedist, or gastroenterologist, your primary care provider can refer you and may be able to recommend a doctor they’ve worked with before. A health advisor can also help you connect to experienced specialists in every medical specialty.
Finding the right primary care provider
When choosing a PCP, consider what’s important to you and what may have stood in the way of you seeing a primary care provider in the past. Ask potential providers:
- If they have office hours in the evenings or on weekends, if the usual doctor’s office hours have been a stumbling block for you
- If they offer telemedicine or the ability to ask questions via email or text if virtual access is key for you
- How they approach care for patients like you, for example LGTBQ+ patients, patients of color, patients from your faith background, patients with different abilities
- Whether they offer complementary and integrative medicine or functional medicine services or partner with a provider who does
- What their philosophy of care is
If you have health insurance, check whether the provider is part of your network. If you don’t or they’re not in your network, ask for a cost estimate for the services you need.