It's Men's Health Week, a time to raise awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. The first stop for prevention is your primary care provider. As you'll read here, going to urgent care to see a new provider whenever you have a problem is not the same as having a primary care provider who knows you.
By Katharine Treadway, M.D.
Last week, a patient I have known for several years called my office and spoke to my nurse. She said that while she was driving, her vision had gone blank for one second and then she was fine. My schedule was already overbooked. Almost all of the slots were filled with patients with the usual array of multiple chronic medical problems for follow-up and management of what were, for the most part, stable conditions. Thus my nurse sent her to urgent care
, a unit set up so that patients can see a health care provider quickly for acute medical problems rather than go to the emergency room. The necessity for such a system has developed gradually as the burden of prevention, chronic care, documentation, and paperwork has eroded the flexibility of many internists to squeeze in the extra patient with an acute problem. The result, paradoxically, is that I see my patients when they are well or stable, and urgent care sees them when they are sick -- the reverse of what should happen. The cost of such a system can be significant, as this story illustrates.