The importance of a primary care doctor

When it comes to your health, everyone should have a trusted personal advisor

They’re called many things: Primary care providers, personal physicians, family doctors, internists, or simply the “regular doctors.” Whatever the term, in a world where Internet-assisted self-diagnosis is common practice and specialization prevails, are these generalists still necessary?

The short answer: More than ever. 

“A key role of the primary care doctor is to help you coordinate your health care” explains Michael Silver, MD, vice president of medical affairs at Rush Oak Park Hospital. “Your primary care doctor can refer you to the right type of specialist when you need one and organize any hospital care or procedures you may require.”

While Googling symptoms or rummaging through the medicine cabinet might make for a temporary solution to a particular ailment, your health shouldn’t be treated so carelessly. 

A primary care doctor views a patient’s needs not just through the lens of a particular specialty, but from a more holistic perspective, explains Silver. As a result, they can help you sort out complex medical issues. 

But what if you’re young, healthy and rarely sick?

“Even if you’re at a stage in life where more sleep, antibiotics or quitting smoking can fix most any health issue, primary care is still valuable,” says Silver. “It’s about establishing the relationship. It’s an investment in your lifelong health.”

Family Practitioner Lucy Fox, MD, who practices with Rush Oak Park Family Medicine, says a primary care doctor helps forge through the avalanche of health information available today so the patient can focus on what’s most relevant—staying healthy. 

“The health care system can be overwhelming, even more so if you have chronic or complex issues,” says Fox. “We’re the people who can help you make sense of it. We have the big picture when it comes to your health. We can alert you to problems that your habits or family medical history may predispose you to, and help you strategize how to stay healthier for the long term.” 

Rush Oak Park Physicians Group (ROPPG) has quadrupled its primary care practitioners in recent years, while continuing to strengthen relationships with private primary doctors.

A recent addition to the ROPPG family is Kimberly Harden, MD, who practices with Rush Oak Park Physicians Group-Elmwood Park. One of the things that drew Harden into the field of primary care, she says, was the long-term connection to patients. 

“I love the variety of being a family physician, being able to care for people of all ages and the opportunity to serve in a lot of capacities,” she says. “I like the challenge of helping people stay healthy and feel better at all junctures in life, and of developing long-term relationships not only with individual patients but entire families.” 

Silver says that finding the right doctor that fits your needs is vital.

“Your comfort level is important, because your primary care doctor is someone with whom you will have a relationship for years or even decades,” he says. “You should be able to talk to your doctor about most any sensitive topic, from depression or anxiety to child rearing to every type of physical symptom. Your primary care doctor is a trusted personal advisor who knows you well, and a partner in keeping you healthy.

“If you don’t have a primary care doctor,” he adds, “we can help you find one.” 

For a referral to a primary care doctor, call Rush Oak Park Hospital's Physician Referral Representatives at (708) 660-INFO (4636) between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.