How Primary Care Can Save Your Life
Dr. Neil Padgett, is a Partner and Clinical Director for Maryland Primary Care
Physicians in Glen Burnie, MD with 20 years experience as an internist and epidemiologist. In a recent interview he had the following to say about the vital role primary care medicine plays in the early detection and treatment of life-threatening illnesses.
In the early 20th century the three most common fatal diseases were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea. With the introduction of antibiotics and improved housing and sanitation, these problems are now much less common. Although they remain challenges in many third world countries, in western industrialized nations, infectious diseases like these are major public health threats only with people weakened as a result of illness, and smokers.
In their place, today’s three top causes of death in the developed world are heart disease, cancer, and stroke; all of which are “silent killers” that take years, even decades to develop and present symptoms. The real danger of these diseases is by the time they progress to the stage at which they are discovered, it’s generally too late. A sobering statistic that Dr. Padgett used to drive this point home is the fact that the first symptom in heart disease 20% of the time………. is death.
The mission of primary care physicians, beyond treating the common illnesses that prompt most people to see a doctor, is to improve the quality of life of their patients. This is accomplished by screening for these less obvious diseases, so they can be detected and treated at early stages. Some of the most common screenings are for prostate, colon and breast cancers, as well as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. The ultimate goal being detection and treatment of these diseases as early as possible, increasing the odds of a patient living a full and healthy life.
Dr. Padgett cites a recent example of a patient who came to his office for a same day appointment complaining of back pain that had been bothering him for two weeks with no improvement. The attending physician, Dr. Allison Williams was concerned with the way the pain was radiating into the patient’s back so she ordered a chest x-ray. The x-rays showed a spot on the lung, therefore Dr. Williams ordered additional tests, which indicated a potentially serious problem. The patient was referred to an oncologist, who confirmed early stage lung cancer and performed surgery shortly thereafter. As a result of early detection and intervention, this patient is now cancer-free. In speaking with Dr. Williams about what prompted her to pursue such a thorough screening process for a seemingly minor ailment, she said that her sensitivity to and recognition of the less obvious signs of cancer had been heightened by the experience she went through in losing her mother to lung cancer four years ago.
In conclusion, Dr. Padgett emphasizes the importance of seeing your primary care physician on a regular basis. He explains when a doctor has an established relationship with a patient, he’s both familiar with that individual’s medical history, and he knows when a reaction or behavior is out of character, which can signal a potential problem.