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The impact of direct primary care: 3 patient stories

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“Patients are so surprised at the time we get to spend together. We develop a very trusting relationship. This helps me take care of them more thoroughly.” - Dr. Kate Long, Charlotte practice

When it’s more than “just a physical”

Whether out of habit or necessity, many patients comply with annual physical exams. We make the appointment a year in advance, set a reminder and forget about it until it’s time to head to the doctor’s office. For some patients at Dr. Long’s clinic, however, these preventive exams become the first opportunity to stop disease in its tracks. It happened for a patient when Dr. Long found a lump in her breast. A biopsy confirmed cancer, and the patient received radiation and a lumpectomy. The early diagnosis meant she didn’t need chemotherapy or more invasive surgery. “She may have never found it on her own, but we found it on a preventive exam,” Dr. Long says. She credits the direct primary care model, stating, “because I have more time, I do a more thorough exam.”

 

A life-saving relationship

This patient’s journey starts with an annual physical with Dr. Long. Since direct primary care allows for more personal relationships, Dr. Long encouraged the patient to call if he ever had anything further he wanted to discuss. It would become a critical lifeline for the patient, who in the months following a normal exam and blood work, noticed odd, seemingly unrelated symptoms. He knew who to call. The first few symptoms concerned Dr. Long, but it was when the patient mentioned abdominal pain and changing fingernail color that she knew that this was an emergency. Changes in fingernails can indicate blood infections or rare cancers. When the patient arrived at the hospital immediately after the call with Dr. Long, his white blood cell count was three times the normal level. He was preliminarily diagnosed with leukemia and started treatment. Throughout the process, Dr. Long monitored the patient’s emergency room workup and stayed in constant coordination with his oncologist. The oncologist stated that had he not gotten to the hospital, it’s likely he would not have survived more than 48 hours.

 

Advocating for the right treatment

Another patient learned the value of a trusted primary care doctor when she started having an upset stomach and digestive issues after her initial physical with Dr. Long. When her symptoms persisted, the clinic team ran additional blood work and discovered abnormalities, including severe anemia. The patient also presented a rare rash known as erythema nodosum, which can indicate autoimmune and other conditions. The diagnosis was made: Ulcerative colitis.

Over a series of calls and visits, Dr. Long, the patient and her gastroenterologist worked together on a treatment plan. They tried multiple methods to relieve her symptoms, but all were unsuccessful.

The gastroenterologist then recommended Humira, an immunosuppressive drug. But after months of denials from the patient’s insurance company, the patient returned, frustrated, to Dr. Long’s office. Dr. Long’s team immediately contacted the insurance company and coordinated approval of the drug within a week.

Why was Dr. Long’s team able to help when the process seemed to be at a standstill?

“We’re invested,” Dr. Long states simply. “Normally this patient would have been referred to a specialist and we wouldn’t be able to be involved further. She may have just been forgotten due to patient volume. Because we have time for one-on-one [conversations] we were able to focus on getting it done for her.”

 


Learn more about Healthgram’s direct primary care clinics here.

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