Living Well: Women's Primary Care Looks At Big Picture
When people ask me why a woman who already sees an OB/GYN at least once a year also needs a primary care provider, the answer is easy. It's just like having an air traffic controller. Except in this case, I'm more of a "care" traffic controller.
(point of) Care
Emily Clark, APRN
My job, as a nurse practitioner who does a great deal of primary care practice, is to look at the big picture. Women need someone to look at their whole body, all of its systems and to keep track of their risk factors and family medical history. An OB/GYN is a specialist, with advanced training and experience in specific areas of women's care. A women's primary care provider looks at a woman's entire body and spectrum of health needs.
As the "care traffic controller," I'm also there to help watch for warning signs of any bigger problems. If I see those signs, I can help coordinate the next step, whether that's diagnostic tests, referrals to additional specialists or providing resources to the patient to help them out. At every step of the way, I can be a guide to the patient, helping them understand what's being done and why.
But a woman's healthcare isn't just about the body. It's also about how we approach care together. As women face different health issues, they also receive and process that information differently. That's what makes my job different from that of a specialist.
The patient's needs and wants are a critical part of how I care for them. Ultimately, I can recommend a course of action, but if it's going to truly make a difference, it has to be something the patient understands, wants and needs.
Going The Distance
Women take care of so many people in their day-to-day lives — children, spouse and parents — all while often working outside of the home. Too often, women forget they have to take care of themselves in order to take care of all of those whom they love.
Women face a number of health problems that are similar in men, but several issues are very specific to women. That's why having a primary care provider who focuses on a woman's entire body is also advantageous.
Some of the biggest health needs that manifest differently in women include:
- Osteoporosis: Women have certain dietary and activity needs for very specific reasons. An example of this is the need for women to get enough calcium and Vitamin D, and to exercise regularly. Both of these, done together and properly, are key to stopping osteoporosis, which is a highly preventable disease.
- Vascular disease: High blood pressure, heart attack and stroke are all serious health concerns for both men and women. But in women, it is much more common for these
problems to be "silent killers," meaning they often don't present with visible symptoms before they happen. But warning signs for these problems can be caught before by simple, non-invasive tests done routinely by a primary care provider.
- Depression: Women are about twice as likely as men to suffer from depression, according to the American Psychological Association. As a primary care provider, I can help provide resources, guidance and assistance to help women overcome this problem.
The health of all individuals can benefit from preventive screenings, especially when there is a family history of certain health problems. There are a number of screenings which women should be receiving on a set timetable, in order to try to head off long-term, potentially serious problems.
Here are some key screenings, which I can help guide women toward or provide resources about:
- Bone density scan: These scans are one of the most important in identifying osteoporosis. Women should begin talking to their doctor in their 20s and 30s about preventing osteoporosis later in life, and at age 65 or older, undergo this test at least once for signs of this problem (this test can be done earlier if a woman has certain risk factors). Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- Cervical cancer screening (Pap test): This test involves testing cells from a woman's cervix to look for signs of pre-cancerous cell activity. Between the ages of 21 and 29, women should have this done at least once every three years, in addition to an annual pelvic exam. For women ages 30 to 65, a Pap test every three years or both a Pap test and HPV test every five years is preferred. Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- Mammography: Mammograms are one of the most important tests for women to get annually, starting at age 40 to 45 (or earlier if there are risk factors or a family history) in order to catch breast cancer early. Source: American Cancer Society.
- Colorectal cancer screening: Using a simple colonoscopy exam, which takes about a half hour or so, women can be screened for this cancer, which is very preventable and usually slow-growing. Colonoscopy screening typically starts at age 50 and then as recommended by your doctor, unless there are risk factors or family history. Even more importantly, if a polyp (a growth which sometimes can become cancerous) is found during the colonoscopy, it can be removed right then. This is why colorectal cancer is so preventable. Source: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
- Blood testing: Blood pressure measurement, diabetes screening and cholesterol are all easy ways to detect warning signs of current and future health problems. Knowing about any associated issues can help a woman make life choices that can reverse, prevent or limit later problems.
As a woman, a wife and a mother of three boys that depend on me, I look at my health as a means to live my life to the fullest. Taking care of my body and my health isn't always easy, and sometimes it takes time and effort. I want to be the best version of me for as long as I can be.
As a nurse practitioner and primary care provider, I want to help other women realize that goal, too. If I can help a woman drive toward and meet her goals, I consider that a success.
Emily Clark, APRN, is a nurse practitioner and primary care provider with Owensboro Health's One Health medical group. One Health Obstetrics & Gynecology does scheduled women's health and primary care visits, and also offers sick appointments with rapid turnaround. For more information call 844-44-MY-ONE (844-446-9663) or request an appointment with Emily Clark.
*This article was originally published on December 31, 2015 in the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.