Issue 3 Stories
The Best Medicine

Hamsters for President and Other Reasons You Need a PCP

Having a primary care physician (PCP) comes with a lot of obvious advantages. For one thing, whenever I do something that isn’t very bright and results in my needing medical attention (I call that “Tuesday”), I have someone who can provide me with compassionate, quality care.

But another, often overlooked, benefit of having a relationship with a PCP has to do with all of the conflicting health-related information one hears on the news or reads on the internet.

For example, new guidelines seem to be announced continually on how often we should be tested for certain health conditions. Age 50? Age 40? Age 45, but only if you’re between 5’6” and 5’9” tall? And information sources of varying authority on health issues constantly seem to be changing views on what foods and/or vitamins one should—or now shouldn’t—take. Medical advice changes almost daily, so how can you know what to believe?

Having your own PCP means you no longer have to turn to your grandmother with health-related questions and hear her advice to boil some eye of newt and drink it down in one gulp. Nobody wins with that—not you, and certainly not the newt, although your grandmother might get a good chuckle out of it.

Having a PCP also means you don’t have to put stock in the medical advice offered by your uncle who saw a program on the Science Channel that talked about YOUR VERY SYMPTOMS! He usually neglects to mention that the show he saw was in black and white and included a cameo by Herbert Hoover.

Nowadays, it sometimes seems like if you wait long enough, things that were once good for you are now bad for you, and vice versa. An even bigger problem is that you can find pretty much any information on the internet that fits what you want to believe: e.g., that ice cream, smoking and not exercising are all good for you. But reading a dubious “fact” on the internet clearly does not make it true.

As a test of this hypothesis, I tried Googling the first random (and strange) thing I could think of, which was: “Can a hamster run for president?” I was surprised to see that hamsters have already run for president in the past (actual hamsters—I’m not making a political statement here). So am I to now believe that a hamster can legally run for the highest office in the land? I don’t think so, despite some candidates who have put that theory to the test (I am making a political statement here).

One important thing about primary care physicians is how well they keep up on current medical studies and research. Even more impressive, the literature PCPs refer to hasn’t been written up in someone’s basement or produced as clickbait for YouTube—it’s actual, credible, scientifically vetted information from reliable sources. What a concept.

I can’t do that sort of work myself to keep current on which health information is accurate and which is not. First of all, I don’t understand half the words in those articles, and second, all of that takes a lot of effort. I need a guide—a trusted guide—and that is my PCP.

Having someone like that in your corner is invaluable. Primary care physicians instill confidence, help you stay informed and will provide a much better healthcare experience than anything involving your grandmother’s eye of newt.

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