Staying healthy over the long-term is a goal for lots of people. But taking steps to help support good health and wellness? Too often, family responsibilities, work and life get in the way of our best intentions.
In honor of National Primary Care Week Oct. 4 to 10, Ayesha Nasir, MD, discusses why it’s so important for people of all ages to make time for a visit to a primary care doctor at least once a year.
Primary care doctors are experts in specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine and pediatrics. They have broad knowledge of many types of conditions, and are the best starting point when you have questions about your health or symptoms.
Just as important, primary care physicians are dedicated to preventing illnesses and diseases before they occur. If you’re feeling great, a primary care physician’s goal is to help you stay feeling that way.
Dr. Nasir, a board-certified family practice physician with Avance Care, is passionate about primary and preventive care. Avance Care’s primary care physicians and nurse practitioners offer a full spectrum of primary care services, including annual physicals and well checks, routine health screenings, immunizations, sports physicals, chronic disease management, women’s health services, geriatric care, and laboratory services.
Why should someone who is young and healthy consider preventive care and get started at an early age?
The purpose of preventive healthcare is to prevent diseases from occurring, or to diagnose them early on, so we can manage them and reduce the cost of healthcare. Many conditions don’t have symptoms. So I always tell my patients that you don’t know it until you check it.
For example, as part of routine preventive healthcare, we check cholesterol. Believe me it’s not going to give you any symptoms until the damage has been done. So we want to diagnose high cholesterol before gets to the point that you’re seeing the long-term effects, which can be a stroke or heart attack.
We follow the recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians on routine screenings for cancer, diabetes, depression, infectious diseases, hypertension (high blood pressure), osteoporosis, and other conditions.
Is preventive care covered by insurance?
Most of the healthcare plans actually do cover 100% for preventive healthcare. That includes bloodwork, cancer screening, and discussions about lifestyle changes. But plans and coverage do vary, so to find out for sure how much is covered, contact your insurance company.
What should patients expect when they come in to an Avance Care office for an annual checkup?
It’s a very smooth process. We’ll usually ask them to get their fasting bloodwork done a few days before, so when they come and see us, we already have their labs done. We have a basic set of labs that check for anemia, cholesterol, kidney and liver function, a metabolic panel which looks at electrolyte levels and glucose, thyroid function, and we can check for STDs as requested.
The physical exam takes about 20 to 30 minutes. During their physical exam, we’ll take their vitals, and look at all of the medications and supplements they are taking. For women, we can do the full spectrum of women’s health screenings, such as pap smears for cervical cancer and breast cancer screening.
The appointment is also a chance for us to talk, to discuss healthy lifestyle maintenance, and to check in on mental health as well. We see a lot of patients who just come for their physical health, and we give them a screening test for anxiety and depression, and we find out they are struggling. So I might say, “Can you tell me a little bit more about it?” And they open up about feeling depressed. I have dealt with anxiety and depression more than ever before in my life these last two years. People have been lonely. They have lost their support systems. I’m seeing this across the ages, from teenagers to seniors. Sometimes we neglect our mental health, and a preventive healthcare examination is an opportunity to talk about that as well.
As a primary care physician, how can you help people who are feeling depressed or anxious?
I’m here to listen. We’re able to manage most health conditions like depression and anxiety without seeing a specialist or a psychiatrist. But when my patients need it, we also have behavioral healthcare here at Avance where I can refer them for therapy and specialty care.
Did the pandemic impact people seeking out preventive care?
I think the pandemic has changed people a lot regarding taking care of their preventive health, or coming for their physical appointment, because they waited until they had a problem. But that should not be the case. I know that getting your physical is time out of your busy schedule. But once a year, if you can get one day to take care of your health, it will pay in the long run. Consider it a self-care day for you.
What’s your message to people in the Raleigh area who have been putting off making an appointment?
If you have been contemplating coming in and you haven’t done that in the last few years, just go ahead make an appointment. It’s not going to they take that long. We can talk about some good, healthy things. And you’ll have that connection with your doctor in case you need something later on. If we find something we can treat and avoid complications down the road, why not? Or we may say, “Oh, everything is great. Let’s keep up the good work.” We are family practice physicians. And we treat our patients as family.
Why are you passionate about preventive care?
I’ve been in primary care for about 10 years now. Over the years, I have diagnosed things that have changed people’s lives. I had somebody who came with a very high BMI. With continuously talking about lifestyle changes, they were able to lose weight, and they were able to reverse their medical conditions, without even medication. I’ve been able to diagnose cancer early on, when it’s very treatable. The mental health diagnoses are very important, too. I really think preventive healthcare is underrated. We need to focus more and more on prevention.