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How access to primary care can improve early detection of chronic diseases

November 29, 2023 • read

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How access to primary care can improve early detection of chronic diseases

In Canada, having a family doctor or another primary care provider is a strong predictor of your ability to access care in the broader healthcare system—including non-emergency surgery, diagnostic testing, and referrals to specialists.

A primary care provider (or PCP) is, for many Canadians, their main point of contact for understanding their health. Whether for regular check-ups or to manage health issues or questions as they come up, having a PCP can be a reassuring presence to ensure timely access to healthcare.

Primary care access and chronic diseases

Not all chronic conditions show up with a sudden, big change. For chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, and even mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, the onset of signs and symptoms can be slow and may not drive you to the doctor until they become too much to manage on your own.

If you consistently use the same provider to access primary care—whether that means the same clinic, doctor, or team of physicians—your personal medical record will be updated from one appointment to the next. That means that your provider can easily look back at your medical history to identify changes.

If you have access to your medical record, you may also be able to spot changes in your health over time. If you have notes about when certain symptoms began and how they felt then, it can also help you or your provider recognize how they may have progressed since.

In some cases, these changes can point to the development of health issues—from minor to more serious—and having a PCP who helps you catch these conditions early can help you manage them over the long term. Quote: "Almost half of Canadian adults have at least one chronic condition"

Early detection can make a difference

Almost half of Canadian adults have at least one chronic condition. And, when managed properly, that diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean a drastic change to your life or lifestyle. That being said, some chronic conditions are progressive, meaning they can get worse over time if they aren’t properly managed; others can cause additional health issues if they are not managed or controlled.

This is why having access to primary care can be so important. Not only can your provider help to identify the signs and symptoms of these conditions—and either diagnose you themselves or refer you to a specialist who can diagnose you—but they will also be an important part of your care team when it comes to managing your condition.

Here are just three examples of chronic conditions and how access to primary care can help with early detection:

1. High blood pressure (hypertension)
Approximately 25% of Canadian adults have diagnosed high blood pressure (hypertension), making it the most common chronic condition in the country. Hypertension is often a silent condition, which means it may not be the reason for an appointment. Rather, it is something your PCP might catch at a regular check-up or, depending on your age and risk factors, through proactive screening.

Having a PCP as well as a medical record that clearly outlines your family history as well as your personal risk factors can help with early detection of hypertension. High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke and heart disease, so detecting it early and managing it (via lifestyle changes and/or medication) is important.

2. Mental health issues
Even though they may not be openly talked about as much as some other conditions, about 13% of Canadian adults live with mood and/or anxiety disorders. And if we think about mental health more broadly, it is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness in any given year.

Considering the link between mental and physical health, it is important to speak to a doctor if you feel “down” or anxious on a regular basis.

In some cases, your primary care provider may refer you to a mental health specialist or program. In others, particularly if your mental health disorder is linked to a physical cause—anything from stress to insomnia to pain, etc.—they may be able to help you manage that trigger as well. In all cases, it is a real and valid aspect of your overall health to bring up during your next appointment.

3. Hypothyroidism
There are a variety of reasons that your thyroid gland may be underactive, or fail to produce enough of thyroid hormones T4 and T3, some of which may show up in your family history or be part of your personal medical history. In these cases, having consistent access to primary care can help you connect the dots between a wide range of symptoms before your condition progresses.

If your care provider suspects you may have hypothyroidism, they will order a blood test in order to confirm the diagnosis before beginning treatment. In most cases—about 5% of Canadian adults live with hypothyroidism—this condition can be controlled with daily medication.

Depending on your specific situation, your primary care provider may refer you to an endocrinologist.

Infograph of the most common chronic conditions in Canada. Hypertension 25% Osteoarthritis 14% Mood and/or anxiety disorders 13% Osteoporosis 12% Diabetes 11% Asthma 11% COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) 10% Ischemic Heart Disease 8% Cancer 8% Dementia 7%

How Maple can help

Access to primary care is an important part of caring for your health. With Maple, not only do you get convenient, reliable access to primary care when you need it, but you also benefit from a single, centralized medical record. This means that no matter the reason for your appointment, the provider you see will have access to your file, which can help with earlier diagnosis and more seamless management of chronic conditions.

Whether you have an existing chronic condition, or have concerns that you may be developing one, we’re here to help with convenient virtual care available 24/7. Visit with one of our Canadian-licensed doctors today.


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