You can get away without having a regular general practitioner (GP) for a while if you’re young, healthy and a little bit stupid. But over time you’ll have enough health concerns that avoiding a GP will make your life more complicated. Here’s how to know when you hit that point:
You have a health concern that requires follow-up
I finally found myself a GP this year after a bout of mono. I had visited two different urgent cares with weird vague symptoms, and neither knew anything about me besides what I told them at the beginning of the visit. And then all they could really do was order the tests or prescriptions I needed in the moment, and tell me I really needed to follow up with “[my] regular doctor.”
That’s because your GP is much better at keeping track of what’s going on with you from visit to visit. They’re set up to handle your ongoing concerns, and to connect your various health issues with each other.
You need a specialist
Many specialist services require a referral from a GP if you want to claim your Medicare rebate, so having someone who knows your health history and what kind of specialist you need to see can save you a lot of time.
They can even help when you don't know what your problem really is. Dr. Google can only take you so far. Your GP can help you figure out which specialist you need to see, or they may be able to handle your concerns without an extra visit.
You’re dealing with a lot of specialists
If you end up seeing more than one specialist, chances are some of their advice will conflict. Your GP can help you sort through the different things you’ve been told and help you figure out what’s most important.
The more complex your medical condition, the more important this is. Health care folks have a name for this concept: The medical home. (It’s a metaphor, not an actual house.) No matter where you get your care, the information all has to come “home” to one office or person who keeps track of everything.
You’re sick of everyone ordering the same test
If you’re hopping between urgent care facilities or specialists, there’s a good chance you’ll get more procedures (and spend more money) than if you had kept seeing the same doctor all along.
When you stick with one doctor, and have any other providers send information back to them, it should be easy for them (or you!) to look up whether you’ve already had the test they want to order.
You haven’t had a checkup in forever
Healthy adults might not need a checkup every year, but that’s not a license to never get one. Plenty of your health needs don’t relate to a specific body part that hurts enough to send you to an urgent care.
Preventive care is important if you want to stay healthy. Depending on your age and other risk factors, you might need vaccines, cancer screenings, or other routine tests and procedures. Good news: you can get checkups and blood tests for free from most bulk-billing doctors.
You wish you could get quick answers to your questions
Sometimes you don’t want to drag yourself to the urgent care just to find out the answer to a simple question. Video visits can work for simple things, but they still take time and there’s no seamless hand-off if you end up needing to see a provider in person.
But if you’ve already established a relationship with a GP, you can often call them (or message them) to get a quick answer to something you’re wondering. They have all your records, and best of all, often they will actually remember you. In general, if they saw you recently, you can usually get prescriptions filled and simple questions answered. So if you aren’t motivated by concern for your health, consider getting a GP as a way of indulging your laziness.