Health & Medicine

Improving access to primary care helps patients get help when they need it

There is no denying that Kentucky has lots of room for improvement when it comes to the health and wellness of our citizens. We have some of the highest rates in the country for cancer, obesity and death due to heart disease and stroke.

As individuals, if we want to change those rankings, we have to take better care of ourselves. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting regular check ups and seeking care when symptoms arise, before the condition advances into a larger health concern.

Many diseases and illnesses are more treatable when diagnosed early. Whether it is early detection of cancer or the quick treatment of a respiratory infection to avoid pneumonia, delaying medical care can affect a patient's outcome.

In today's world, we lead busy lives and have many obligations that often make it difficult to get to the doctor when we are sick, much less for those regular checkups. It's often easy to say, "I just don't have time."

As doctors, we have to meet our patients where they are to build a relationship that engages them to maintain their health. Providing patients with additional flexibility and access to care is an important step toward a healthier community.

Research shows that the overall health of a population is directly linked to the strength of its primary health care system. Primary care provides a "medical home" for patients and helps ensure a continuity of care.

According to research published by the American College of Physicians, a strong primary care system improves quality of life, longevity, disease prevention and chronic disease care. A strong primary care system also lowers health care costs by reducing hospital stays and emergency room visits.

New programs are making it easier and more convenient to get needed care, without visiting an emergency room or waiting until an illness advances. Many health care providers offer evening and weekend hours to accommodate working individuals and busy schedules.

In addition, through KentuckyOne Anywhere Care, Kentuckians can now receive urgent care without leaving home — by consulting with a medical professional over the phone or by web camera, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and within 30 minutes of the request. If additional care is needed, a referral will be arranged for a follow-up visit with a primary care physician or an emergency department depending on severity of symptoms.

This service is particularly helpful in treating common issues including urinary tract infections, sinus infections, flu, upper respiratory infections, allergies, rashes and pink eye.

More than half of our state is medically underserved, especially in poverty-stricken areas where there is a shortage of doctors. Improving access to primary care services is an important, critical step toward creating a healthier Kentucky.