The concept of having a primary care physician is to control the cost of patients seeing a specialist directly. Under the primary care model, patients see their family doctor who treats or refers to a specialist. This frees up more expensive specialists from seeing patients directly who may or may not be a candidate for the specialist. All said, even though it does cut costs for insurance and patients, the concept can also help direct a patient to proper and appropriate care. In this way, managed care has it right in theory if maybe not exactly for the right reasons.
Proper care is predicated upon a primary care doctor being a competent differential diagnostician who can manage the overall case especially if multiple specialists are involved. Unfortunately, the way it stands, most primary care physicians are either not very good at differential diagnosis or they just don’t have the time to do it right. Part of the problem, whether they like it or not, is that they are inundated with too many patients. Too many patients creates an environment of hasty visits and poor communication. In addition, there is pressure from the insurance companies to be more efficient and to save costs often at the expense of proper diagnostic protocols.
Here is where chiropractors can come in. Chiropractors have learned the art of differential diagnosis, pathology, etc. just as much as our medical colleagues. In addition, chiropractors have more training in musculoskeletal diagnosis, radiology, and nutrition. In my practice, I spend a good amount of time during the initial visit discovering any and all health concerns and what is functioning well with a holistic outlook. In short, most chiropractors if they were interested would make excellent primary care doctors.
There are some major advantages to using some chiropractors as primary care doctors (not all chiros are interested and some see diagnosing as a dirty word). First, we have a shortage of primary care doctors which really limits access to care (I wonder how much worse it will get if go to socialized medicine). Opening it up to chiropractors could significantly ease the burden.
Second, chiropractors tend to build stronger relationships with their patients. Chiropractors tend to see patients much more than just when their patients are sick enough to go in. In addition, we put an emphasis on building relationships because we have to in order to grow our practices.
Third, chiropractors are actually concerned about patients’ health and not just their sickness. Sure most people come in because of a problem but what is the underlying cause and what else can be prevented? You don’t know unless you ask and in my office, at least, we make it a point to comb through your entire history and do a full exam.
Fourth, although we cannot prescribe medication, our ability to conservatively treat patients in a cost effective manner is second to no other health profession.
Just like in anything cooperation is the key. There are still specialized MD’s who will not accept a referral from a chiropractor and, there are chiropractors who act like diagnosing is an evil art form invented by the medical community. Both are part of the reason that chiropractic still struggles with a legitimate identity (another post, altogether).
I think my patients who know me well use me as their primary care doctor. Usually, the switch happens when they have something come up and they go to their MD. They then casually bring it up to me. I take the time to diagnose and educate and then point them in the right direction for proper care. Sounds like a win win to me. What do you think?