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Be Well 2020: 5 benefits of having a primary care doctor

Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series of stories that originally were published in the Chronicle’s March 1 health and wellness supplement sponsored by Franciscan Health.

For the healthy ones out there, seeing their doctor is little more than an annual checkup event. People who live with chronic conditions, on the other hand, are compelled to visit the doctor’s office more frequently to manage their health.

Franciscan Physician Network physician Dr. Dionna Lomax works with Davina Cook of her medical staff to keep patients on track. (Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle)

Having a primary care doctor, a physician you see regularly, can help you achieve greater health outcomes and feel more confident about scheduling your next appointment, said Dr. Dionna Lomax, a family medicine physician in the Francisican Physician Network practicing at her office in Homewood. 

Lomax shared some of the ways people can benefit from building a relationship with a primary care doctor. 


1. It creates a continuity of care.

The prevailing reason for people to have a regular primary care physician is that doing so provides a continuity of care for their health. Seeing different physicians at various offices or urgent care centers creates a sporadic system in which each visit lacks context from the previous visit. 

By seeing the same doctor each time you have a concern, you have a history and baseline of information from which to work. You have established a relationship and a context for your health, which assists the doctor in treating you.

“Say we have a patient complaining of chest pain,” said Lomax. “Chest pain can mean many things. If you had someone pass in your family recently, it could be anxiety. When I get to know you, maybe I learn that you had trauma in your life. Or, maybe it is heart related and we need to get you some treatment for that.”

Your primary care physician will also refer you to medical practitioners they trust and think are appropriate for you, further enhancing your continuity of care.

2. Your doctor can treat you more effectively.

Building a continuity of care helps keep your primary care physician informed of your health progress, and provides a fuller picture of your challenges and your potential. 

The relationship you build with a primary care physician gives the doctor a better understanding of how best to help you.

“You have patients come in and you know something’s not right because you have established that relationship,” Lomax said.

She told the story of a patient who arrived at an appointment using a cane to walk. Lomax had never seen the woman use a cane, but Lomax had been away for her previous appointment, when the patient saw a different doctor.

The patient told Lomax she had an “episode” weeks prior and lost her vision partially. She hadn’t told the other doctor, who didn’t think to ask because he didn’t know the cane was new. Lomax sprung into action, and it was later discovered the patient had suffered a stroke.

Dr. Dionna Lomax, a family medicine physician in the Franciscan Physician Network, discusses the importance of having a primary care physician. She believes keeping regular appointments helps the doctor develop a relationship with patients. (Mary Compton/H-F Chronicle)

3. You’ll gain more insight into your health goals.

While a sudden loss of vision may be an obvious red flag to some people, Lomax said physicians understand that patients enter their exam rooms armed with varying levels of health literacy. 

Health literacy refers to a person’s ability to understand what might be impacting their health and their capacity to communicate that to a physician. The less health literacy a person possesses, the more assistance they may need in determining their health goals.
During an initial visit, Lomax often comes to understand a patient’s level of health literacy, along with their personal challenges and goals for better health. It’s the first step in building a relationship with a patient, she said.

“The first time I meet you, we sit and we talk,” Lomax said. “We schedule enough time where I can have a conversation with you about your medical history, your background, what medicines you take. It’s a long first visit for a new patient.”

4. You’ll develop a basis of trust.

As you develop a relationship with a primary care physician, you can come to see them as an ally for your health. Lomax said she focuses on helping her patients achieve their individual health goals, without dictating to them what she thinks they ought to want.

Sometimes people have concrete ideas for what wellness goals they want to work toward, while others aren’t so sure.

“That’s where having a good primary care physician is important because sometimes you have to tease these things out,” Lomax said.

Trusting that your physician is listening to you and working toward your health goals provides a significant incentive for you to work toward them. 

It’s important to remember that a relationship of trust — especially one that involves a sensitive topic like personal health — doesn’t happen in one or two visits.

“It takes time to build that trust, and patients come from different experiences where that trust may have been broken,” Lomax said. “Working together to create that trust relationship is very important.”

5. It can help save you time.

Building a relationship with a primary care physician, analyzing your health goals, following up on treatment plans — all of this takes time, something people tend to have in short supply. 

Busy schedules keep people from caring for their health, especially if they act as a caretaker for a child or parent, whose health often takes precedent.

Even so, Lomax said that building a relationship with a primary care physician actually saves patients time in the long run. The office staff and doctor become familiar with you, your needs and personal challenges. 

Increasing the frequency of your visits can also reduce the amount of time you must spend managing your health, especially when it comes to medication management, Lomax said.

“If you haven’t reached the health goals you’ve set, maybe you want to increase the frequency of your visits,” she said. “I’ll tell a patient, ‘Let’s try this for three or four months, and see how it works. If it doesn’t work, come back and we’ll try something else.’”

For additional information on finding a doctor, visit FranciscanPhysicansNetwork.org or call 708-679-2370.

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