Many millennials, specifically Black and Brown people, tend to not get regular checkups and normally don’t have a primary care physician (PCP). Due to the coronavirus outbreak, it’s important more than ever to discuss why having a PCP is a necessity. For example, in New York City, hospitals are advising people to steer clear unless it’s a true emergency or if you believe you have contracted the coronavirus. If you had a PCP, you would be able to contact them via phone or virtual methods to diagnose your symptoms and severity of your issues.
Recently, we spoke with Dr. Donald R. Henderson on the importance of Black men having a PCP. He states, “we [Black men] have a greater incidence of disease and negative outcomes from disease. Early detection and diagnosis is really important. If you are healthy at age 21, chances are you will be healthy at age 25, but it changes as you get older. And that’s why it’s important.” Having a PCP will help you to “follow the guidelines based upon what should be done in a certain age category in terms of being screened for diseases. In the African American community, hypertension, obesity and diabetes are rampant. Then you have to look at your family history.” He also emphasizes the importance of having a yearly physical and stressed the importance of knowing your family’s previous health conditions.
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds and 28 percent of 30 to 40-year-olds didn’t have a primary care provider. When you look at men, the percentage is even higher. But why is it that men, more specifically Black men, don’t have a primary care physician or go to the doctors immediately when they feel something is wrong? Dr. Henderson believes, “men in general, in our American culture, don’t value as much without having a partner to help stimulate that search for preservation for health and living longer. Very few men do that without having a partner or somebody to say, ‘Let’s be healthy together.'” Men in relationships live longer than single men. A major survey of 127,545 American adults found that married men are healthier than men who were never married or whose marriages ended in divorce or widowhood.
It has also been argued that having the same racial or cultural background with a doctor helps patients communicate more and be more trusting. African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, but only 4% of U.S. doctors. When reflecting on cultural familiarity, Dr. Henderson offers this perspective. “If you look at physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and providers in general, you find that there’s a racial distinction between the person who’s receiving the service and the person who’s providing it a great deal of the time,” he explains. “When you have people that are culturally closer to you, they may have an ability to understand you a little better.” For example, a Black patient may feel more comfortable speaking with a Black doctor as opposed to a white doctor because he feels that he and the Black doctor have more in common. This may lead to the patient being more honest about his symptoms and allow the relationship to grow.
Although men may want a doctor that shares the same cultural background, not finding a doctor who looks like them should not be the reason why they don’t have a PCP. “You want to have a primary care physician to help you in terms of a broader screen of what’s happening in your life and what’s going to happen in your life,” Dr. Henderson states. When taking steps to identify the right primary care physician, he advises, “you can look at a physician’s certifications, location and hours. You also want to look at their support staff to make sure they have electronic means of communicating with you.” Give your insurance provider a call and they will be able to refer doctors to you.
In reference to the coronavirus pandemic that is sweeping the world, he tells us that “if you have viral symptoms, you don’t want to go to the doctor’s office. You want to stay away unless you are having respiratory problems and can’t breathe or some type of dire symptoms.” A great resource for medical information is uptodate.com and pubmed.gov.