February 21, 2019

Are you established with a primary care physician (PCP)? If not, here’s why you need this go-to health care provider in your corner.


You may think a primary care physician — a general practitioner who serves as the first point of contact for your medical care needs — is only necessary if you need to see a specialist, or if you’re prone to illness. But even if you’re the lucky type who rarely catches a cold or flu and has no chronic medical concerns, establishing a “health home” is still important.

“Even healthy people need a physician,” said Jonazary R. Cervone, D.O., of Vanderbilt Primary Care. Primary care physicians like Cervone provide advice for preventative care and wellness to help patients stay healthy and reach their goals. They’re also there to coordinate between providers and to help manage any medical issues that don’t require specialized care.

“Sometimes it can be intimidating to talk about your health with someone whom you don’t know,” Cervone said. “What’s great about primary care, and what I love about it, is the ability to build a long-term relationship with your patient. It’s important to establish trust so that patients feel comfortable asking questions, discussing concerns, or sharing information regarding their health.”

Don’t have a primary care doctor? Here’s how to make the most of this important health relationship.

Establish care before you need care.

New patient appointments often take time to book, whereas clinics generally give higher priority to current patients. That’s why you should establish yourself with a primary care physician before a medical concern crops up. You’ll have fast access to care with someone you know and trust.

Schedule regular wellness visits.

Cervone recommends that all individuals schedule an annual wellness visit with their primary care doctor. “That’s when we discuss preventative care guidelines based on age and gender and any new screening recommendations from the different medical societies,” Cervone said. “We also provide education for leading a healthy lifestyle and preventing chronic disease.”

If a patient is smoking, for example, a primary care physician will discuss methods for quitting and determine if the patient needs screenings for lung cancer or any other conditions that could result from tobacco use.

Through your regular wellness visits, your primary care provider will also be able to stay abreast of your medical history. A comprehensive record helps your PCP inform you of risk factors for conditions and determine preventative measures.

If a patient informs their primary care physician of a family member’s recent diagnosis of colon cancer, for example, a primary care provider will discuss with that patient whether he or she should have earlier-than-recommended colonoscopies and what to watch for regarding changes in bowel habits.

“That’s an important aspect that we review with a patient during every wellness visit,” Cervone said. “We go over family medical history, surgical history and medications, whether those are prescription, over-the-counter or supplements.”

Reach out to your primary care physician when you have a health concern.

“A primary care physician is a person you can see to seek advice and get an initial evaluation,” Cervone explained. “Primary care physicians are well trained to manage both acute and chronic conditions, but if a condition requires further evaluation by a specialist, we can coordinate that.”

Even if you see a specialist, your PCP’s clinic still remains your health home. You can follow up with your primary care physician for help with understanding test results, discussing symptoms, monitoring how lifestyle changes are affecting your health and keeping track of when further tests or screenings are needed.

Communicating with your primary care physician should be fast and easy. Vanderbilt, for example, has the My Health at Vanderbilt app and web portal, where patients can message their PCPs with medical questions that may not require an appointment, ask for a prescription refill, review lab results, access medical records and more. “It keeps everything organized and centralized,” Cervone said.

Doctor speaking to patient about mammography procedure.

It’s important to have a primary care provider to oversee all of your healthcare needs. Click here to see the locations and options available for Vanderbilt Primary Care.