By Lilla Berck, MD, Medical Hills Internists
It’s 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. You have a big day ahead of you – running kids to various activities, planning and preparing dinner for a houseful of company, and catching up on everything that didn’t get done during the week! But you woke up with a runny nose, congestion, sore throat, and a pounding headache. Are you coming down with the flu? Is it just the onset of a nasty cold? Could it be strep throat? There is no time to be sick and you need to take action fast! Going to the ER seems too extreme, there are prompt cares in town, but you are not familiar with any and aren’t even sure which one your insurance covers. What do you do?
We have all been in this situation. And there is another option. Many people do not know that a primary care provider (PCP) is just the solution. A PCP is a health care practitioner who sees people who have common medical problems. This person is usually a doctor, but may be a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner. Most people think that a PCP is a “family doctor,” which is true. But (general) internists are also PCPs. Family physicians and internists have many similarities, but also some significant differences. Family medicine includes a much broader scope of training that encompasses adults and children of all ages.
An internist is a type of physician that can comprehensively care for adults of any age. General internists are considered experts in diagnosis and treatment of acute or chronic illness, and in health promotion and disease prevention. They are not limited to one type of medical problem or organ system, meaning that internists can diagnose and treat chronic problems like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and COPD. But internists are also very proficient at diagnosing and treating acute (meaning sudden onset) problems that involve symptoms like runny nose, cough, headaches, sore throat, etc. Internists can also manage sports or joint related injuries.
Many offices are open Saturday mornings for sick and urgent visits, to address problems like the ones above. More importantly, most internist offices also offer “same day” appointments when you get sick, so you will get seen with a much shorter wait time. You can also call your internist for urgent matters, even after hours. Some internist offices have an “on-call” doctor that will speak with you on the phone. When you are sick, it is always comforting to see familiar faces, including nurses and office staff that know you. In addition, you will likely get a more reliable diagnosis from a health professional at an office that has your records and medical history readily available.
Unfortunately, many people do not have a primary care physician. If you’ve always been healthy with few medical problems, perhaps you never felt the need. Many women have OB/GYN providers, whom they see at least once yearly, that function as their PCP. However, women would benefit from also having an internist to help with non-gynecologic related problems. An internist can also perform routine yearly female-wellness care, such as pap smears, and ordering mammograms.
The job of a primary care provider is to see and treat the “whole” you. It’s especially important for people who also see specialists like heart doctors, lung doctors, perhaps surgeons, counselors, etc. to have a PCP, but many of those same people do not. An internist can function as your “medical home;” a centralized place that all specialists, hospitals, ER and other clinics can send notes and information. And you may not need to see so many specialists, because internists can often manage those same illnesses or problems. For example, you may not need to see an endocrinologist to have under-active thyroid treated. Moreover, many internist offices include on-site laboratory, X-ray and physical therapy services, which makes your medical care easier and more efficient.
An internist that serves as your primary care provider can help navigate your health by providing preventative care, teaching healthy lifestyle choices, diagnosing and treating common medical conditions, coordinating the care that you may receive from specialists, and allow you to have a trusting, ongoing relationship with one medical professional over a long period of time.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, you may contact Medical Hills Internists at 309-663-8311. They are a group of independent primary care physicians dedicated to serving the health and wellness needs of your entire family from infants to seniors. They offer same day appointments and an after hours call-in line for urgent matters along with an on-site lab, X-ray, and physical therapy.