Good health is often key to living life to the fullest – and having a primary care physician is often the key to good health. “A primary care physician is an advocate for the patient and often your first contact when you have a health concern,” says Dr. Gary R. Burke, Associate Chairman of Medicine and Chief of General Medicine at St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals. “We look beyond just the clinical needs; we see the whole person and often interact with the entire family,” says Dr. Burke.
A strong doctor-patient relationship offers big benefits. There’s no second-guessing which doctor or specialist to see; you can always start by talking to your primary care physician. From Dr. Burke’s point of view, it’s helpful to get to know a patient before they have a serious health concern because it allows the physician to understand what they need as a person if they do become sick.
“Primary care practitioners know our patients’ health histories and their personalities,” explains Dr. Burke. “We’re often the first to recognize health changes in our regular patients.” In addition, a primary care physician is the first line of defense when it comes to preventing disease. Primary care physicians can help patients navigate their diet, exercise, stress management, smoking cessation and other lifestyle choices. “People also need to stay current on vaccinations and screenings, such as Pap tests, mammograms, colonoscopies and prostate examinations, to help prevent life-threatening diseases like cancer,” says Dr. Burke.
Continuity of care
If a patient has chronic health issues or a serious illness, primary care physicians offer continuity and accessibility of care – which is especially important when multiple specialists are involved. They can interact with specialists, interpret confusing medical jargon, and provide guidance that helps patients make informed decisions about the direction of their care.
For example, a patient who needs heart care may not know where to go. “Here in New York, cardiologists divide their specialties. Some deal with arteries, some only focus on heart rhythm problems,” says Dr. Burke. “It can be very confusing for a patient. So we will do the initial evaluation and if we can, we’ll provide treatment. Otherwise, we will recommend the appropriate specialist.”
Primary care as we age
Primary care physicians can be even more important for older adults. On average, seniors require more doctor visits, medication adjustments and referrals than any other age group. When facing necessary lifestyle changes, they also appreciate a doctor who has compassion and who listens to their concerns. “It comes back to caring for the whole person and being an advocate for our patients,” says Dr. Burke.
Learn more about primary care and finding a primary care physician that’s right for you by visiting chpnyc.org or calling 1-855-411-LWNY (5969).